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What is diabetic neuropathy?

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Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage caused by diabetes.1
High blood sugar levels injure small blood vessels supplying the nerve
fibres, leading to nerve damage.2 Nerve fibres throughout the body
can be damaged, but this condition commonly affects nerves in the
legs and feet.1

Although diabetic neuropathy is a serious complication, it can be prevented, or its progression can be slowed with good blood sugar control and a healthy lifestyle.1

What are the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy?

Symptoms depend on1:

  • The type of neuropathy
  • The affected nerves

Main types of neuropathy:

1. Sensory

  • Damage to the nerves which detect touch, temperature and
    pain. Commonly affects the feet and legs, but can also
    affect the arms and hands2
  • Symptoms2,3:
    • Tingling and prickling sensation (pins and needles)
    • Numbness, reduced ability to feel pain (or) temparature changes
    • changes
    • Loss of coordination
    • Burning or shooting pains
    • Pain from stimuli that do not usually cause pain at all, eg, light touch
  • Loss of feeling in the feet—not realizing this is dangerous, because minor
    injuries may go unnoticed. Untreated minor injuries can progress to infections,
    ulcers or gangrene. Infections that spread and cause tissue death can
    become untreatable and may require toe, foot or lower leg amputation1,2

2. Autonomic

  • Affects the nerves to your organs and glands which control involuntary actions such as digestion, heart rate, sexual function2
  • Can lead to1,2:
    • Slow stomach emptying. Symptoms include bloating,
      nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, constipation or diarrhoea
    • Inability to control the bladder
    • Irregular heart rate
    • Excessive or reduced sweating
    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Problems with body temperature regulation
    • Lack of awareness of low blood sugar levels
    • Low blood pressure, making you feel faint or dizzy after sitting
      or standing

3. Motor

  • Damage to nerves controlling muscle movement2
  • Can lead to2,3:
    • Muscle weakness, resulting in falls or problems with tasks
    • Muscle thinning, whereby the lack of activity causes loss of muscle tissue
    • Muscle twitching and cramps
    • Foot drop, ie, difficulty lifting the front part of the foot