Diabetic Neuropathy: The Latest Facts

Damage to the nerves is a common complication of diabetes, known as “diabetic neuropathy” or “neuritis. It is often diagnosed late because the onset is silent or even without apparent signs. The most feared symptom is the onset of chronic nerve pain.

Diabetes

Diabetes

High blood sugar, or “hyperglycemia,” affects nerve function which can lead to neuropathy.

This neuropathy can affect either the “peripheral nerves” or the nerves of the “autonomic nervous system”.

Damage to the peripheral nerves may be limited to one nerve (“mononeuropathy” or “mononeuritis”) or may affect all the nerves in one limb or the body (“polyneuritis” or “polyneuropathy”).

What is diabetic neuropathy?

During diabetes, high blood sugar, or “hyperglycemia,” affects several tissues in the body, especially the nerves. This high blood sugar can have a direct effect on the nerves (nerve fibers) or the walls of the small vessels that supply them with blood (“microangiopathy”). The damage can range from functional impairment (slowing down of electrical conduction) to damage to the nerve structure itself, which in this case is difficult to reverse.

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Diabetes can affect all the nerves in the body. It affects two types of nerves: “peripheral nerves” and “nerves of the autonomic nervous system”. Peripheral nerves control the voluntary movement of muscles and allow us to feel pain, heat, cold in the skin, and the position of limbs in space. The nerves of the autonomic nervous system regulate the functioning of the various organs of the body that cannot be voluntarily controlled (heart rate, blood pressure, digestion or perspiration).

Diabetic neuropathy is a fairly late complication, at least clinically, and rarely precedes damage to the eye (“retinopathy”). However, in type 2 diabetes, as in most complications, it can be discovered soon after diagnosis, due to the long silent phase of hyperglycemia, but also due to exposure to other frequently associated neurological toxins, such as tobacco or alcohol.

Diabetic neuropathies are a group of disorders that can cause pain, accompanied by numbness, weakness or strange sensations (“paresthesia”). Up to 70% of people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes have some form of neuropathy, which can affect the hands, feet, arms, or legs. Sometimes it can also affect the digestive tract, the heart, or the sexual organs.

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