Also known as distal symmetric neuropathy, it is seen in almost ninety percent of diabetic patients over the age of forty who have trouble managing their blood glucose levels. These patients were also diagnosed as having elevated levels of lipids in their blood, high blood pressure, and a high body mass index. The highest levels of neuropathy are observed in patients having the disease for at least twenty five years, generally affecting the arms and legs. Diabetic neuropathy may also affect the nerves of the entire body, including the major organ systems like the digestive tract, the heart and reproductive organs — especially when left untreated for several years.
Diabetic neuropathy does not manifest itself clearly. In fact, many mistake it for fatigue and other illnesses that cause the extremities to be numb and sometimes even hurt. Ignoring this lack of feeling in the legs and arms may lead to weakness and atrophy after several years and even the development of lesions that get infected and bring about gangrene. It can also produce digestive disorders such as indigestion, diarrhea and constipation, or vertigo, infections of the urinary system and even impotence.
There are also different varieties of diabetic neuropathy. According to research, nerve deterioration in diabetes is caused by a combination of several factors, each having their own contribution in bringing about nerve injury. Metabolic factors such as increased blood glucose, having diabetes for a long time, low levels of insulin, and an abnormal lipid profile can affect nerve strength since it affects the myelin sheath covering each nerve cell. This myelin sheath is responsible for the formation of synapses between nerve cells, thus initiating its communication and connection to the central nervous system, the brain and the spinal cord. Too much glucose in the blood may lead to the destruction of this sheath, preventing a connection being made with the brain, thus having no sensation. Other causes also include neurovascular factors that may damage the arteries that carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves, autoimmune factors that causes nerve inflammation, physical injury to nerves, and genetic factors and traits passed on from generation to generation.
Diabetes is a metabolic disease, usually acquired genetically or from an unhealthy lifestyle. Smoking, obesity, and excessive use of alcohol are major factors that may trigger more serious complications to occur such as diabetic neuropathy. Most of us just deal with minor sicknesses with a shrug of the shoulders or popping a pill. But to many times, we find out later on that these minor symptoms have escalated into a major disease. And only then will we stop and check our lifestyles. Hopefully by then, it won’t be too late.