Neuropathy is a complication that is bothersome and not very often addressed or treated properly. This complication gradually develops over a period of time and is not always due to diabetes mellitus. This can be due to smoking or excessive alcohol intake as well. However, longer the duration of diabetes, chances of developing a neuropathy are higher. Neuropathy can be aggravated by insulin and some medicines. Rapid control of sugar is known to cause neuropathy for some people. Classically the neuropathy first affects the feet and toes and may gradually ascend.
There are four major types of neuropathy
- Peripheral neuropathy- this is the commonest form which affects the feet and hands. This can present in many forms. There may be numbness of the digits and reduced ability to feel changes in temperature or pain. Patients may complain of tingling or burning, feeling of insects crawling on the body, sharp pains at night, and some may experience extreme sensitivity to even the lightest of touches. Some may experience difficulty in walking or can have ulcers or deformity of the feet.
- Autonomic neuropathy: This part of the nervous system controls the functioning of the eyes, heart, lungs, stomach,intestines and sex organs. Thus, a dysfunction of this part of the nervous system may cause either of the following: urinary bladder problems ( too much urine or lack of control in holding the urine), constipation or diarrhoea, slow emptying of the stomach leading to fullness, difficulty swallowing, dryness of vagina, erectile dysfunction in males, reduced sweating, problems regulating body temperature, difficulty in eyes adjusting to a dark room when coming from a bright room. Some people have variations in blood pressure while getting up from lying down posture leading to imbalance.
- Radiculoplexus neuropathy- affects bigger nerves and hence the numbness can affect the thighs, buttocks, hip and legs. Characterestically patients complain of difficulty getting from sitting position. Some may complain of abdominal swelling and weak muscles.
- Mononeuropathy- this is the type of neuropathy affecting one single nerve. This may disappear over a period of time. No long term complications associated with this type. There maybe difficulty in focusing of the eyes, paralysis of one side of the face with deviation of angle of mouth, carpal tunnel syndrome where there is numbness of one part of the palm with weakness of muscles or loss of sensation. This can be corrected by a small surgery.
For details on how to test for neuropathy, please refer to the blog on feet.