More than half of people with diabetes have some type of nerve damage. People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop nerve complications including retinopathy, nephropathy, neuropathy, and gastroparesis. Find out more about these nerve complications and what you can do to try to ward them off.
- It usually takes at least 10 years after a diabetes diagnosis for symptoms of nerve complications to occur. You can work during these years to prevent nerve damage. Nerve damage may affect parts of the body such as the extremities, heart muscle, digestive system, and sex organs. Research suggests high levels of blood glucose can damage your nerves over time. It is crucial to maintain stable blood sugar levels through proper diet and ongoing blood sugar monitoring.
- The four significant types of neuropathy are based on which nerves are involved. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type that results in pain or numbness in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. A diminished sensation in the feet can mean foot injuries may go unnoticed and could become severe. It is important to check your feet each day when you have diabetes type 1. Also have them checked by your doctor during routine examinations. Cuts, ingrown nails, calluses, blisters, and other issues should be treated immediately. Always wear shoes, including water shoes at the beach or pool.
- Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control your blood pressure, heart rate, digestive system and sexual function. Nerve damage to the digestive system can cause constipation. The stomach may empty too slowly which is referred to as gastroparesis. This condition can lead to bloating, vomiting, nausea, and loss of appetite. With Gastropareisis, blood glucose levels may fluctuate because of abnormal food digestion. Use a glucose meter to constantly monitor your blood sugar levels. Record the results and immediately report irregularities to your diabetes health care team.
- The third major type is proximal neuropathy that leads to impaired nerve function in your thighs, hips or buttocks. This can cause leg weakness and pain that makes it difficult to get into and out of chairs. This type of neuropathy is found more often in people with type 2 diabetes. Exercising at least a half hour a day each day helps to keep your body flexible and strong. Talk to your doctor about the right types of exercises for your condition. Consider low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, biking, and yoga.
- With focal neuropathy, muscle weakness or pain may happen suddenly in any part of the body including the torso, head, and extremities. Focal neuropathy can lead to conditions such as Bell’s palsy or double vision. Often this type of neuropathy improves on its own without long-term effects.
- Additional vision problems can occur as a result of the fluctuating blood sugar levels associated with type 1 diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels of the retina become damaged. There are no symptoms, so regular eye exams are a must. People with diabetes are also at an increased risk of other serious vision problems such as glaucoma and cataracts. Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes as much as possible.
- Nephropathy or kidney damage may occur when blood sugar levels are out of control. The tiny blood vessel clusters in your kidneys filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this filtering system resulting in kidney failure or kidney disease. In its advanced stages kidney damage may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
- The best way to ward off all nerve complications is to work with your diabetes health care team to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Check your blood sugars as recommended by your physician. Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Stay away from sugary and salty snacks. Make regular visits to your physician to assess your circulation and nerve function so problems can be detected early to prevent or manage them.
People with type 1 diabetes may be more likely to experience nerve complications. With proper lifestyle habits you can help ward them off. Maintain healthy blood sugar levels, exercise daily, and eat a well-balanced diet. Take your insulin as directed. Monitor your blood sugars frequently. Discuss your diabetes self-management plan with your health care team often to make any necessary adjustments.