If you have diabetes, you have a high risk of developing neuropathy (nerve damage). Neuropathy affects 60-70% of people with diabetes, making it the most common complication they face. And once neuropathy develops, it can lead to serious health problems.
Our team at iMed Regeneration Center focuses on preventing neuropathy through lifestyle interventions. We also provide innovative therapies to ease your pain and promote nerve healing after neuropathy develops.
Here’s what you need to know about diabetes and how it leads to neuropathy.
You always have some sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream because your brain and cells throughout your body depend on it for energy.
Your body tightly controls the amount of sugar in your blood, keeping it within a specific range. Whenever blood sugar goes above or below the normal range, you develop health problems.
When you eat carbohydrates, their sugars quickly enter your bloodstream. Your pancreas immediately releases insulin, a hormone that gets rid of the excess sugar by escorting it into cells or sending it to be stored as fat.
If you have Type 1 diabetes, your immune system damages your pancreas. As a result, you don’t have insulin. People with Type 2 diabetes have a functioning pancreas but cells stop responding to insulin and can’t take in the extra sugar (insulin resistance).
In both types, you need to take steps to maintain normal blood sugar. Otherwise, it stays elevated and high blood sugar damages your nerves.
There’s no doubt that high blood sugar injures your nerves, but how that happens is complex. There are at least three known pathways allowing blood sugar to cause neuropathy:
In addition to affecting your nerves, high blood sugar damages your blood vessels. This reduces blood flow, depriving nerves of the oxygen they need to thrive.
Glucose naturally interacts with proteins and fats in a metabolic reaction that produces wastes called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs disrupt nerve metabolism and can lead to nerve deterioration.
The excess sugar may get inside the nerves, damaging nerve structure and interfering with nerve function.
Diabetic neuropathy is divided into four types, based on the nerves affected.
Peripheral nerve damage is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. The peripheral nerves run throughout your body, picking up sensory information and telling muscles when to move.
High blood sugar can damage any of your peripheral nerves, but diabetic neuropathy usually begins in the small nerves in your feet. Over time, the damage may progress to affect your legs or hands.
The first symptoms include pain, tingling (pins and needles), or burning sensations in your feet. If your blood sugar remains uncontrolled, the damage becomes more severe and the nerves stop carrying signals.
As a result, you lose sensation, and numbness sets in. Lack of feeling significantly increases your risk for non-healing diabetic foot ulcers.
The autonomic nerves are peripheral nerves that control life-sustaining functions. Damage to these nerves leads to problems with your blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, bladder, eyes, and sweat glands, to name a few.
Focal neuropathy occurs when only one nerve is damaged, causing pain, numbness, and tingling. Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common focal neuropathies.
Proximal neuropathy, a rare but often disabling neuropathy, damages the nerves in the hip, buttock, and thigh, causing severe pain in one or all three areas.
Diabetic neuropathy causes numerous health problems, depending on where the damaged nerves are located. The most common complications include:
The only way to prevent diabetic neuropathy, or to prevent further nerve damage and complications after neuropathy occurs, is to keep your blood sugar within normal limits.
If you need help managing diabetes or relieving neuropathy pain and promoting nerve healing, call us at iMed Regeneration Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, or book an appointment online today.