July 28

Diabetic Neuropathy: Symptoms and Causes

About one-half of people with diabetes develop peripheral neuropathy. Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can be caused by high blood sugar. While there is no cure for neuropathy, patients can find relief with pain management.

If you suffer from neuropathy, you may be wondering, “can neuropathy be reversed?” Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment for diabetic neuropathy.

What is Neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication that comes with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Long-term high sugar levels cause damage to nerves. It is slow developing and can take decades to become clear.

Neuropathy often affects the legs and feet, but those nerves originate in the back. Those with diabetic neuropathy may experience persistent back pain along with pain in the extremities.


Stages of Neuropathy

If left untreated, neuropathy becomes worse over time. There are five stages of neuropathy. When you notice any of the first signs of neuropathy, consult your doctor.

Stage 1: Numbness and Pain

When neuropathy is first developing, you will notice some numbness and pain. During this stage, the symptoms come and go. The beginning symptoms are subtle, but you cannot mistake them.

Stage 2: Persistent Symptoms

During stage 2, the pain and numbness become more persistent and regular. At this point, it becomes difficult to ignore the symptoms you experience. This is when most patients recognize that there is a problem.

Stage 3: Debilitating Pain

In stage 3, you experience pain almost every day and it begins to interfere with daily life. The pain prevents you from taking part in normal activities. Over-the-counter pain medication may not work for you at this point.

Stage 4: Constant Numbness

The fourth stage of neuropathy is when your feet and legs become numb. While this will relieve some of the pain, it is not a good thing. Numbness is a sign that your nerves are dying and are undergoing irreversible damage.

Stage 5: Complete Loss of Feeling

In the final stage, you lose all feeling in your lower legs and feet. Walking is almost impossible at this stage, and balance is affected. Your nerves are severely damaged at this point, and you may need to use a wheelchair for mobility.


Radiculopathy vs Neuropathy

Neuropathy affects the peripheral nervous system, such as the legs and arms. Radiculopathy is when nerves get pinched at the root along the spine. This can also cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the hand.

A hand with a red pain region that represent Diabetic Neuropathy

Symptoms of Neuropathy

There are four types of diabetic neuropathy, and you may have one or more. The symptoms of neuropathy depend on which nerves are affected. Symptoms come so slow that you may not notice a problem until your nerves are already damaged.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of neuropathy, affecting over 20 million people in the US. This type of neuropathy affects the legs and feet first and then the hands and arms. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may include:

  • Numbness, tingling, or burning
  • Loss of ability to feel pain or temperature changes
  • Sharp pains
  • Muscle weakness
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch
  • Ulcers, infections, or bone and joint damage of the foot

Autonomic Neuropathy

Your autonomic nervous system controls functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, and sex organs. Diabetes can affect nerves in these areas as well. Some symptoms of autonomic neuropathy include:

  • Unawareness of low blood sugar levels
  • Rapid drops in blood pressure that may cause dizziness or fainting
  • Bladder or bowel problems
  • Slow stomach emptying that causes nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Increased or decreased sweating
  • Difficulty with a sexual response (vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction)

Proximal Neuropathy

Proximal neuropathy affects nerves in the thighs, buttocks, hips, or legs. These symptoms often occur on one side of the body and may spread to both sides. Symptoms include:

  • Severe pain in the thigh, hip, or buttocks
  • Weak and atrophied thigh muscles
  • Difficulty standing from a sitting position
  • Chest or abdominal wall pain

Mononeuropathy or Focal Neuropathy

Mononeuropathy is damage to a single and specific nerve in the body. This may occur in the face, torso, arm, or leg. Symptoms of mononeuropathy include:

  • Double vision or difficulty focusing the eyes
  • Paralysis on one side of the face
  • Numbness or tingling of the hands or fingers
  • Weakness in the hand
  • Shin or foot pain
  • Pain in the front of the thigh

Diagnosis

Your doctor will determine whether you are suffering from diabetic neuropathy. They will gather information about your symptoms and medical history and give you a physical exam. The doctor will check sensitivity levels to touch and temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tone.

Your doctor may also do a filament test for neuropathy to test the sensitivity in your feet. During this test, nylon fiber gets used to check for loss of feeling in your limbs. Your ankle reflexes may also get tested.


Treatment Options

There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy, but you can slow the progression with treatment. Managing your blood sugar and checking your feet often can prevent complications.

Blood Sugar Management

The most important thing you can do is to manage your blood sugar levels. Managing your diabetes can prevent nerve damage or keep it from progressing further.

Manage your blood sugar by eating a nutritious diet and exercising often. Be sure you also take all diabetes medication prescribed by your doctor. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking can also play a part in preventing neuropathy.

Foot Care

Often, foot problems are a complication of diabetic neuropathy. You may have sores that won’t heal or ulcers. These problems can lead to amputation of the foot if left untreated.

You can prevent these complications by taking good care of your feet. Regular exams with your doctor help as well. To protect the health of your feet, you should:

  • Check your feet every day for sores, redness, and swelling
  • Keep your feet clean and dry
  • Keep your feet moisturized with lotion
  • Wear clean, dry socks made of cotton or moisture-wicking material
  • Wear well-fitting cushioned shoes to protect your feet

Pain Management

Medication may help treat the pain caused by neuropathy. Your doctor will have options for medication and will help you find the right one. Medication often works best in conjunction with other treatments.

Alternative therapies may also provide relief. These therapies include acupuncture, topical capsaicin, physical therapy, and spinal cord stimulation treatment.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine where tiny needles get inserted into the skin and pressure points. In Western medicine, acupuncture stimulates nerves and muscles. It can boost your body’s response to pain and improve circulation.

Many people with neuropathy use acupuncture as a way to relieve chronic pain. It can restore nerve damage and release endorphins to relieve pain.

Capsaicin

Capsaicinoids used for the treatment of pain date back to 4000 BC. This capsaicin was in the form of chilies. Capsaicin is now available in a cream, lotion, patch, and solution.

Topical capsaicin has analgesic effects on painful neuropathy. The capsaicin 8% patch is FDA approved to treat this pain.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can improve strength in the areas affected by neuropathy. It may also help to relieve some of the aches and stiffness that come with neuropathic pain.

Spinal Cord Stimulation for Neuropathy

Research shows that SCS for neuropathy is a safe and effective treatment for certain patients. It is cost-effective and may reverse the effects of neuropathy. It is most effective for patients with pain in the arms or legs.

A spinal cord stimulator gets implanted into the body. It sends low levels of electricity into the spinal cord to relieve pain. Nerve stimulation for neuropathy can stop the pain signals being sent to the brain. A trial is considered successful if SCS removes 50% of a patient’s pain.

There are neuropathy doctors in Maryland who can provide SCS therapy for your pain. Our doctors at Pain and Spine Specialists provide comprehensive pain management care. Neuropathy treatment can improve your quality of life as you live with neuropathy.

A blue spine with a orange pain circle to show what area the spine cord stimulator targets

Can Neuropathy Be Reversed?

At this time, diabetic neuropathy cannot be reversed. The body is unable to repair nerve tissue damage. You can slow the process through blood glucose control and pain management.

Some damage might be permanent for diabetic neuropathy patients who leave it untreated. There is hope for those who catch neuropathy early on. Treatment and lifestyle changes can improve the symptoms of neuropathy.


Neuropathy Treatment Near Me

Now that we have answered the question “can neuropathy be reversed,” we know the importance of treatment and pain management for neuropathy. Treatment and management of neuropathy can improve the quality of life for those suffering. Now, you may be wondering, is there a neuropathy dr near me?

If you are looking for neuropathy treatment in Maryland, look to Pain and Spine Specialists. Our board-certified physicians will give you a comprehensive exam to diagnose your neuropathy. Once we have your diagnosis, we will work with you to create a treatment plan for your neuropathy. Request an appointment today!


Tags

Chronic Pain, Diabetic Neuropathy, Pain Management


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