The Body Short-Circuited
Nerve damage caused by diabetes can affect nearly every part of your body.
By Wil Dubois
Neuropathy is nerve damage caused by diabetes. You most likely learned about it on your first day with diabetes. Probably from some White Coat who wielded it like a baseball bat: If you don't control this diabetes you'll develop neuropathy and we'll have to cut off your legs! Way to motivate a new member of our club.
Yep. Neuropathy is the stick. But what makes it tick? In a nutshell, high levels of sugar are toxic to all living things, and for whatever reason, the delicate nerve cells are the first to go. If your sugar runs too high, too long you'll kill, injure, maim, or mutilate some of the nerve cells — and that causes no end of trouble because we're actually highly wired creatures. We often think of ourselves as liquid beings because we are fully plumbed with blood and have lots of squishy parts, but we are equally electrical. The brain uses a breath-takingly extensive electrical system made up of interlinked nerve cells to telegraph deliberate movement instructions, and to choreograph a host of automatic movements like, say, breathing.
Unfortunately, nerve damage in dFolks is very common, and when we think of diabetic neuropathy, we tend to think of our feet. But there's more to neuropathy than just feet. According to the Neuropathy Association, there are actually more than 100 different types of peripheral neuropathy. Practically every body system can be affected by it, making neuropathy the widest-ranging diabetes complication. It's like a forest fire that can scorch every patch of landscape in your body.
Above the Feet
Your heart can be affected by neuropathy. This can cause messed-up heart rates, dangerously low blood pressure, and fluid retention called edema. Your lungs can be affected by neuropathy, causing breathing problems. Even your eyes can be affected. After all, the optice nerve is kinda important to vision. One of the most unpleasant of this bad lot is neuropathy that affects the gastrointestinal system. That can result in a host of digestive issues ranging from slow stomach emptying to vomiting with nearly every meal, or the charmingly named "anal sphincter weakness," which causes uncontrolled incontinence.
Basically any part of the body that can be felt, has the word "nerve" in it, or is connected to any other part of the body can be affected by neuropathy. And where are our most beloved nerves? Damn right. All around our...um...private parts. Guess what? Both men and women can suffer forms of neuropathy that will ruin even the best-planned romantic weekend.
Even your skin and sweat glands can get neuropathy! As can your cranial nerves. Holy crap! That's like neuropathy of the brain! Can you imagine? Or maybe you wouldn't be able to imagine any more if that happened to you.
Come to think of it, I'm hard pressed to think of a single part of the body that doesn't have nerves. Even bones have nerves. I guess the only parts of your body that don't are your hair and your fingernails. But even hair follicles themselves have nerves — that's why it hurts if someone pulls your hair.
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Many people say that depression is a side effect or complication of diabetes. Without discounting the association of the psychological condition with the physical one, I'm not convinced that our high and/or unstable glucose levels are directly responsible for that change in our mental state. My belief is that the unrelenting need for self-care, for following the sort of care schedules that can drive licensed, professional caregivers crazy, is what overwhelms us...