Diabetic Neuropathy is a nerve disorder which mainly plagues those suffering with diabetes.
Neuropathy can be divided into two categories:
- Diffuse, meaning it affects many parts of the body.
- Focal, meaning it affects a single, specific nerve or a specific part of the body.
Diabetic neuropathy can lead to muscular weakness, loss of feeling, and even the loss of autonomic functions such as digestion and bladder control.
The autonomic nervous system refers to the bodies involuntary functions.
What Is Autonomic Neuropathy?
Autonomic neuropathy affects these natural involuntary functions in the body.
This includes heart rate and blood pressure.
It is not a specific disease, but a group of symptoms damaging the autonomic nervous system.
Diabetic autonomic neuropathy (DAN) may affect the following:
- Blood pressure
- Urination tract
- Sexual organs
Autonomic neuropathy can also affect blood glucose control and cause a condition known as hypoglycemia unawareness.
Affected individuals no longer experience the warning signs of hypoglycemia.
If left untreated, results could be fatal.
Signs And Symptoms
Paralysis of the bladder is a very common symptom of autonomic neuropathy.
Other symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Impaired urination and sexual function
- Stomach disorders
- Bladder infections
- Exercise intolerance
Unfortunately, modern medicine does not yet know the exact cause of autonomic neuropathy.
They are varied and can be a complication from a number of diseases.
Some medications can cause autonomic neuropathy as a side effect.
Other common causes of autonomic neuropathy include:
- Inherited disorders
- Certain infectious diseases
- Injury to nerves
- Abnormal protein build-up in organs
Risk factors include poorly controlled diabetes and other diseases like cancer, lupus, Parkinsons’s and HIV/AIDS.
In order to diagnose this kind of nerve damage, patients will need a physical exam and other specific tests done.
Can One Prevent Autonomic Neuropathy?
While autonomic neuropathy is not always preventable, you may be able to slow the progression of the disease by taking good care of yourself.
Changes you could make include:
- Control your blood sugar
- Exercise regularly
- Stop smoking
- Control high blood pressure
- Maintain a healthy weight
Simple lifestyle changes can in most cases be very effective.
The cause of autonomic neuropathy, if identified, can be treated.
Neuropathies due to autoimmune reactions are often treated with drugs which suppress the body’s immune system (Immunosuppressants).
They include azathioprine, methotrexate or prednisone. These drugs are bad in many ways.
If symptoms are severe, immune globulin (a solution containing many different antibodies collected from a group of donors) may be given intravenously, or plasma exchange may be done. In plasma exchange, blood is withdrawn, filtered to remove abnormal antibodies, then returned to the person.
How To Treat Autonomic Neuropathy
Treatment will largely depend on which part of the body is affected.
- Modify your diet
- Consume frequent, small meals
- Increase fiber intake
- Retraining your bladder
- Urinary assistance ( catheterization )
- An external vacuum pump ( for men )
- Vaginal lubricants ( for women )
Heart rhythm and blood pressure
- A high-salt, high-fluid diet
- Change your posture
- Elevate your head when sleeping
A Natural Alternative
There are several alternative treatments which may help people with autonomic neuropathy.
Autonomic neuropathy is a serious condition, discuss any new treatments with your doctor to ensure that they don’t conflict with other treatments you are already receiving.
Early research suggests this antioxidant may be helpful in slowing or even reversing neuropathy.
Several studies have found that they can improve insulin resistance. Studies also found that alpha-lipoic acid supplements can help with neuropathy and or cancer treatment.
Evidence also suggests that alpha-lipoic acid helps type 2 diabetes.
They reduce symptoms like pain, tingling, and prickling in the feet and legs.
It may also help protect the retina from the damage of diabetes.
There are many foods which contain alpha-lipoic acid in very low amounts. These include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Rice bran
- Red meat, particularly organ meat
This therapy uses numerous thin needles placed on specific points in the body.
Studies have show that acupuncture may help to improve nerve conduction. The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as a useful therapy for neurologic symptoms like peripheral neuropathy.
Although an individual may not recover immediately or completely through acupuncture, treatment can make a difference in the symptoms and a persons comfort levels.
Over time, treatment may have a lasting positive impact on peripheral neuropathy.
There is a need for more studies to confirm acupuncture’s role is in treating autonomic neuropathy.
For more information on diabetic neuropathy, please read Compounding: The Diabetic Neuropathy Cure.