Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage caused by diabetes. Up to 70 percent of people with diabetes develop neuropathy over time. Once you have this nerve damage, it can’t be reversed so it's important to prevent it by keeping your blood sugar under control. Exposure to high levels of sugar can damage the blood vessels that carry oxygen to your nerves. Inflammation caused by diabetes can also damage nerves.
When you have neuropathy, it's harder for nerve signals to pass back and forth between your central nervous system—your brain and spinal cord—and various parts of your body. There are different types of diabetic neuropathy, depending on the specific nerves affected. You could have more than one type.
- Peripheral neuropathy affects nerves that control your toes, feet, arms and legs. It's the most common type.
- Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control your inner body functions, including your heart, digestive system, blood pressure, bladder and sexual functioning.
- Proximal neuropathy affects nerves that control your thighs, hips, buttocks and legs.
- Focal neuropathy affects specific groups of nerves, usually in your head and upper body.
The longer you live with diabetes, the more likely you are to develop neuropathy. Men develop it more often than women. Risk factors include:
- Poor control of blood sugar
- Living with diabetes for more than 25 years
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
You can have diabetic neuropathy before you notice any symptoms. The symptoms you develop over time depend on what type of neuropathy you have and may include:
- Numbness, pain, burning or tingling in your hands, fingers, toes or feet
- Difficulty walking or moving from sitting to standing
- Loss of muscle mass and weakness
- Slow healing of ulcers or sores on your feet
- Nausea, bloating, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea
- Problems with sexual function. such as erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women
- Problems controlling bladder functions
- Trouble seeing at night or double vision
- Excessive sweating
- Dizziness when standing up too quickly