Diabetes can affect many systems in the body, and the nervous system is no exception. Having high blood sugar can cause nerve damage, leading to a condition known as diabetic neuropathy. This complication occurs in roughly half of all people with diabetes, often causing severe or chronic pain. The good news is that there are treatments available to slow its progression and relieve any associated pain.
There are several types of diabetic neuropathy. Here’s a closer look into each type and associated symptoms.
This type of neuropathy is the most common among people with diabetes. It’s typically felt in the extremities, beginning in the feet and legs, eventually traveling to the hands and arms. Rarely, it may also be felt in the abdomen and back. Signs may include numbness or reduced sensation, tingling or burning feelings, muscle weakness, and cramping or sharp pain.
Severity of peripheral neuropathy can vary drastically. For some people, symptoms are mild. For others, the discomfort can be painful and disabling. Serious foot issues can also develop, including ulcers and infections.
In a case of autonomic neuropathy, the nerves that control internal organs become damaged. This can lead to issues with the digestive system, blood pressure and heart, sex organs, sweat glands, and eyes.
Symptoms vary depending on which system of the body is affected. For example, you may have a rapid heart rate if your heart and blood pressure are affected. Digestive symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, difficulty swallowing, and vomiting. Some people also experience hypoglycemia unawareness, or the inability to feel the symptoms of low blood sugar.
Although it’s one of the most uncommon forms of diabetic neuropathy, some people experience this disabling condition which results in severe pain and weakness in one leg. Symptoms usually occur in the muscles near the hip or knee. While the pain typically subsides over time, it can be intense and may cause lingering weakness.
Also known as focal neuropathy, mononeuropathy occurs when a single nerve becomes damaged. This affected nerve may be located in the arm, leg, face, or torso, and symptoms vary based on where the nerve is located. For example, mononeuropathy could result in foot drop, pain in one specific area of the leg, double vision, or numbness or tingling in the hands or fingers.
Like diabetes itself, diabetic neuropathy doesn’t have a cure. The goals for treatment are therefore to manage symptoms and control blood sugar levels to prevent further nerve damage.
Keeping blood sugar levels on target is really the best medicine, but if you’ve already developed a form of diabetic neuropathy, there are different treatment options available.” Prescription drugs including antidepressants and anti-seizure medications, for example, may be used to alleviate pain. Patients can also consult with a specialist — such as a urologist, cardiologist, or gastroenterologist — to address specific issues that stem from neuropathy-related complications.
For persistent nerve pain, HFX™ spinal cord stimulation (SCS) may be a helpful solution. As the only FDA-approved SCS system for diabetic nerve pain, this treatment involves a minimally invasive, same-day procedure to implant an SCS device. This implant then sends electrical pulses to the nerves to block pain signals to the brain, helping to control discomfort.
To discuss SCS and other treatment options for diabetic neuropathy, contact the team at Alliance Spine and Pain Specialists. We can also be reached by calling (770) 929-9033.