Type 2 Diabetes: What Is Neuropathy?
Because of the damage, the nerves can’t carry clear messages from your feet or other body parts. You may not experience as much pain when you get cut, for example. You may feel numb, or feel tingling that’s painful. Men have neuropathy more often than women.
Other problems people with neuropathy experience are:
- Failing strength in various parts of the body
- Abnormalities of heart function
- Difficulty digesting food
- For men, problems having an erection
Type 2 Diabetes: Long-Term Effects
Ronald Brazg, MD, an endocrinologist at Valley Medical Center in Renton, Wash., and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, explains, “Diabetic neuropathy is common in patients with type 2 diabetes because many patients go undiagnosed and untreated for many years prior to seeking medical attention.” At first, diabetes is asymptomatic — the patient feels no symptoms — until “either the blood sugar is very high or the patient already has complications related to the diabetes.” According to Dr. Brazg, a typical patient goes for about 10 years before being diagnosed with diabetes.
Robert Ruxin, MD, an endocrinologist in Ridgefield, Conn. says other things affect the development of neuropathy too. “With aging, other factors such as [poor] circulation, vitamin B-12 level, average blood sugar, and the use of alcohol may all contribute to the development of neuropathy,” he says.
Type 2 Diabetes: Slowing Disease Progression
Although preventing diabetic neuropathy can only happen through strict management of your blood sugar levels, there are steps you can take to limit the progression or to catch it earlier, rather than later.
Dr. Ruxin suggests that the best ways for people with type 2 diabetes to avoid diabetic neuropathy, besides controlling blood sugar, are:
- Do not smoke.
- Drink alcohol only moderately — and with the okay of your doctor.
- Visit your diabetes clinician a few times a year to review your recent medical history.
Those regular appointments with your doctor or a diabetes clinic are an important tool in keeping you healthy. You can have tests that check for sensation or nerve pain, and even tests that can tell your doctor how well and how quickly nerve impulses are traveling through various parts of your body.
Another important part in being vigilant about your health is examining your feet closely and regularly. If you have peripheral (located in hands or feet) diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage to the small nerves closer to the skin, it usually affects your feet first because they’re farthest away from your heart. By checking the temperature, color, and sensitivity of your feet regularly, your doctor should be able to notice if the nerves are starting to be damaged.
Type 2 Diabetes: Managing Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy can be managed, but not treated. This means that once people with type 2 diabetes develop nerve damage, it can’t be reversed. But, with good management, the progression could be slowed — even stopped — in some people.
Some people have experienced pain relief from certain types of antidepressants, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), anticonvulsants such as valproate (Depakote), and skin creams, like capsaicin.
Another medication often used for diabetic neuropathy is called gabapentin. In a recent study, doctors found that gabapentin has an added benefit for people with diabetes: It can also help the heart.
Living with diabetes can be challenging, but with vigilance and good care, diabetic neuropathy is one complication that can be avoided in many cases.