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The Nerve Damage of Diabetes

Focal Neuropathy (Including Multiplex Neuropathy) continued...

This kind of neuropathy is unpredictable and occurs most often in older people who have mild diabetes. Although focal neuropathy can be painful, it tends to improve by itself after a period of weeks or months without causing long-term damage.

People with diabetes are also prone to developing compression neuropathies. The most common form of compression neuropathy is carpal tunnel syndrome. Asymptomatic carpal tunnel syndrome occurs in 20 to 30 percent of people with diabetes, and symptomatic carpal tunnel syndrome occurs in 6 to 11 percent. Numbness and tingling of the hand are the most common symptoms. Muscle weakness may also develop.

Diabetic Neuropathy Can Affect Virtually Every Part of the Body

Diffuse (Peripheral) Neuropathy

  • Legs
  • Feet
  • Arms
  • Hands

 

Diffuse (Autonomic) Neuropathy

  • Heart
  • Digestive System
  • Sexual organs
  • Urinary tract
  • Sweat glands

 

Focal Neuropathy

  • Eyes
  • Facial muscles
  • Hearing
  • Pelvis and lower back
  • Thigh
  • Abdomen

How Do Doctors Diagnose Diabetic Neuropathy?

A doctor diagnoses neuropathy based on symptoms and a physical exam. During the exam, the doctor may check muscle strength, reflexes, and sensitivity to position, vibration, temperature, and light touch. Sometimes special tests are also used to help determine the cause of symptoms and to suggest treatment.

A simple screening test to check point sensation in the feet can be done in the doctor's office. The test uses a nylon filament mounted on a small wand. The filament delivers a standardized 10-gram force when touched to areas of the foot. Patients who cannot sense pressure from the filament have lost protective sensation and are at risk for developing neuropathic foot ulcers. Physicians may order the filament (with instructions for use) free from the Lower Extremity Amputation Prevention Program, (LEAP) Bureau of Primary Health Care, Division of Programs for Special Populations, 4350 East West Highway, 9th floor, Bethesda, MD 20814; telephone (301) 594-4424.

Nerve conduction studiescheck the flow of electrical current through a nerve. With this test, an image of the nerve impulse is projected on a screen as it transmits an electrical signal. Impulses that seem slower or weaker than usual indicate possible damage to the nerve. This test allows the doctor to assess the condition of all the nerves in the arms and legs.

Electromyography (EMG)is used to see how well muscles respond to electrical impulses transmitted by nearby nerves. The electrical activity of the muscle is displayed on a screen. A response that is slower or weaker than usual suggests damage to the nerve or muscle. This test is often done at the same time as nerve conduction studies.

Ultrasoundemploys sound waves. The sound waves are too high to hear, but they produce an image showing how well the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract are functioning.

Nerve biopsyinvolves removing a sample of nerve tissue for examination. This test is most often used in research settings.

If your doctor suspects autonomic neuropathy, you may also be referred to a physician who specializes in digestive disorders (gastroenterologist) for additional tests.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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