The Nerve Damage of Diabetes
The two categories of diffuse neuropathy are peripheral neuropathy affecting
the feet and hands and autonomic neuropathy affecting the internal organs.
The most common type of peripheral neuropathy
damages the nerves of the limbs, especially the feet. Nerves on both sides of
the body are affected. Common symptoms of this kind of neuropathy
Numbness or insensitivity to pain or temperature
Tingling, burning, or prickling
Sharp pains or cramps
Extreme sensitivity to touch, even light touch
Loss of balance and coordination
These symptoms are often worse at night
The damage to nerves often results in loss of
reflexes and muscle weakness. The foot often becomes wider and shorter, the
gait changes, and foot ulcers appear as pressure is put on parts of the foot
that are less protected. Because of the loss of sensation, injuries may go
unnoticed and often become infected. If ulcers or foot injuries are not treated
in time, the infection may involve the bone and require amputation. However,
problems caused by minor injuries can usually be controlled if they are caught
in time. Avoiding foot injury by wearing well-fitted shoes and examining the
feet daily can help prevent amputations.
Autonomic Neuropathy (Also Called Visceral Neuropathy)
Autonomic neuropathy is another form of diffuse neuropathy. It affects the
nerves that serve the heart and internal organs and produces changes in many
processes and systems.
Urination and Sexual Response
Autonomic neuropathy most often affects the
organs that control urination and sexual function. Nerve damage can prevent the
bladder from emptying completely, so bacteria grow more easily in the urinary
tract (bladder and kidneys). When the nerves of the bladder are damaged, a
person may have difficulty knowing when the bladder is full or controlling it,
resulting in urinary incontinence.
The nerve damage and circulatory problems of
diabetes can also lead to a gradual loss of sexual response in both men and
women, although sex drive is unchanged. A man may be unable to have erections
or may reach sexual climax without ejaculating normally.
Autonomic neuropathy can affect digestion.
Nerve damage can cause the stomach to empty too slowly, a disorder called
gastric stasis. When the condition is severe (gastroparesis), a person can have
persistent nausea and vomiting, bloating, and loss of appetite. Blood glucose
levels tend to fluctuate greatly with this condition.
If nerves in the esophagus are involved,
swallowing may be difficult. Nerve damage to the bowels can cause constipation
or frequent diarrhea, especially at night. Problems with the digestive system
often lead to weight loss.