Diabetic Neuropathy

Having diabetes can cause a type of nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy. The skilled specialists at MaineHealth work closely with your provider to offer specialty care and resources to help manage diabetes.

What is diabetic neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy is a common diabetes complication caused by damaged nerve fibers from high levels of blood sugar. The nerves most often affected are in the legs and feet. But nerve fibers can be affected throughout your body. Even though it is a common complication of diabetes, it can be serious.

Screening for diabetic neuropathy

Based on symptoms, health and family history, your healthcare provider will usually diagnose neuropathy during office visits.

Some tests that might be used for screening are:

  • Sensitivity test (filament test)

  • Electrical discharge test (electromyography)

  • A special blood pressure test (autonomic testing)

  • Nerve tests (nerve conduction study & quantitative sensory testing)

Treatment for diabetic neuropathy

There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy. Treatment will focus on reducing pain, slowing the progression and reducing complications. Often the first step is getting your blood glucose level to a normal range. Quitting smoking also can help slow the progression. Your healthcare provider will also work with you to reduce pain. There are other specific treatment options that can be used to help with any complications of neuropathy, such as urinary tract problems, low blood pressure, problems with digestion and sexual dysfunction.

Diabetic Neuropathy types

Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of neuropathy. It affects the feet, legs, arms and hands. Feet and legs are usually affected first.

Symptoms can include:

  • Numbness, tingling, or pain in feet, hands, fingers, toes, or legs

  • Cramping or sharp pains

  • Weakness

  • Trouble with balance

  • Problems with your feet: ulcers, infection and pain

  • Sensitivity to touch

Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy involves damage that affects the heart, lungs, bladder, stomach, intestines, eyes or sex organs.

Symptoms can include:

  • Not being aware of low blood sugar levels

  • Trouble controlling your bladder

  • Nausea, vomiting or little appetite

  • Constipation

  • More or less sweating than usual

  • Trouble with sexual function

  • Trouble with your eyes adjusting to light changes

Proximal neuropathy

Proximal neuropathy involves nerve damage affecting the legs, hips, buttocks and thighs.

This type of diabetic neuropathy is more common for older adults with Type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms often affect one side of the body and can include:

  • Weakness in the leg or legs

  • Sudden onset of pain in buttock, thigh, or hip

  • Loss of strength in thigh muscles

  • Trouble going from a sitting to standing position

  • Loss of weight

Mononeuropathy or focal neuropathy

Mononeuropathy or focal neuropathy causes damage to specific nerves. Most often the nerves affected are in the legs, torso or face.

Symptoms can be severe, but usually there are no long-term effects. This is more common in older adults.

Symptoms can include:

  • Vision trouble

  • Shin or foot pain

  • Severe lower back or pelvis pain

  • Pain in the chest, side or belly