What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is an attack on the nervous system. It is one of the complications of diabetes. When blood glucose (sugar) levels stay high for an extended period of time, it can damage the nerves, particularly the nerves in the lower limbs (peripheral neuropathy). Certain organs can also be affected, such as the heart, genitals, stomach, intestines and bladder.
What does Neuropathy mean?
When the sensory system is impacted by injury or disease, the nerves within that system cannot work to transmit sensation to the brain. This often leads to a sense of numbness, or lack of sensation. However, in some cases when this system is injured, individuals experience pain in the affected region. Neuropathic pain does not start abruptly or resolve quickly; it is a chronic condition which leads to persistent pain symptoms.
For many patients, the intensity of their symptoms can change throughout the day. Although neuropathic pain is thought to be associated with peripheral nerve problems, such as neuropathy caused by diabetes or spinal stenosis, injuries to the brain or spinal cord can also lead to chronic neuropathic pain.
Signs and symptoms of neuropathy pain
Unlike other neurological conditions, identification of neuropathic pain is hard. Few, if any, objective signs are present. Examiners have to decipher and interpret a collection of words that patients use to describe their pain. Patients may describe their symptoms as sharp, dull, hot, cold, sensitive, itchy, deep, stinging, burning, or some other descriptor. Additionally, some patients may feel pain with a light touch or pressure.
In an effort to help identify how much pain patients may be experiencing, different scales are often used. Patients are asked to rate their pain based on a visual scale or numeric graph.
Neuropathy with Diabetes, and other common illnesses
Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that happens in people who have diabetes mellitus. It affects mainly the peripheral nerves.
There are three types of peripheral nerve affected: motor, sensory, and autonomic. Motor nerve fibres carry signals to muscles to allow motions like walking and fine finger movements. Sensory nerves take messages in the opposite direction. They carry information to the brain about shape, movement, texture, warmth, coolness, or pain from special sensors in the skin and from deep in the body. Autonomic nerves are nerves that are not consciously controlled. These nerves have functions such as controlling the heart rate, maintaining blood pressure, and controlling sweating.
Damage to these nerves makes it hard for the nerves to carry messages to the brain and other parts of the body. This can result in numbness (loss of feeling) or painful tingling in parts of the body.
Risk factors for neuropathy
This article covers in more detail, some recommendations for the prevention of neuropathy. If you found this article useful, please share with your family and friends.