Diabetes is a slow poison as it leads to cascading health problems, if it is not controlled during the early stages, it can leave you helpless. Let me cite you an example of my young colleague, Chirag Barman, who was only 36 when he first discovered that he had diabetes. It was especially difficult for him as he hated taking medication even for a viral fever. After starting his treatment of diabetes, he found out one day that his right leg was swollen and had developed some kind of infection under his feet. Surprised, he sought immediate medical attention. However, it was too late. As a result of his diabetes, he wasn’t able to sense the injury in his feet that developed a few weeks back fast enough and his leg now needed to be amputated.
Even though most senior citizens in India have diabetes, many do not take this disease seriously. They cheat on their diets by adding a little sugar in their tea or missing their daily dose of pills. These uncontrolled high blood sugar levels slow down conduction signals in nerves and blood vessels, which supply essential nutrients to the nerves, resulting in severe damage and causing diabetic neuropathy. Not to mention, smoking and consumption of alcohol also only serves to aggravate the diabetic problem.
There are many symptoms of diabetic neuropathy such as tingling numbness, the loss of power and balance due to weak and flabby muscles as well as sudden shooting pains along peripheral nerves which supply the limbs. This pain might not be felt resulting in injuries going unnoticed eventually leading to infection and in worst cases amputation.
If the automatic nervous system is affected, heart rate can also be impacted. Instead of fluctuating with activities, it is kept rapid at all times. This interferes with the body’s ability to maintain blood pressure. A symptom of this is the reeling of one’s head when suddenly standing up.
The movement of the gastrointestinal tract can also be affected. Patients may find it difficult to swallow due to the esophagus not contracting properly. It may also cause vomiting and feeling full. The slow movement of food through the intestines may also result in constipation or watery diarrhea.
Bladder nerve damage is also possible resulting in a person’s inability to perceive whether his bladder is empty or full leading to urinary incontinence. Blurring of vision may also occur.
The treatment of diabetic neuropathy starts with proper control of blood sugar levels. This should be kept in the target range of 80-130 mg dL on an empty stomach and 18 mg dL two hours after food. In order to achieve this, a healthy regiment of diet and exercise needs to be strictly adhered to. The individual should aim to have a calorie intake of 1500-2000 calories while avoiding processed food, sugar and honey as well as exercising(doing cardio) for at least 30minutes a day. Blood sugar levels can also be controlled with insulin injections and specific medication can be taken for the symptoms of neuropathy.