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Aug 18, 2011

Healthy Living discusses diabetic neuropathy

Diabetes continues to be among the top causes of death in Belize. In an effort to fight the “silent killer”, a weeklong youth camp is being hosted by the Belize Diabetes Association to educate participants on how to cope and properly manage their condition. This week Healthy Living discusses diabetic neuropathy, one of the common complications that affected persons can encounter if they do not maintain proper sugar levels.

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

Persons with diabetes are expected to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  All effort is placed on keeping sugar levels normal. One of the more common effects of high blood sugar is nerve damage, specifically diabetic neuropathy. Neurologist, Dr Marco Mendez, helps us to understand how the sugar affects the nerves.

Dr. Marco Mendez, Neurologist

Marco Mendez

“Neuropathy is just that there is an affection of the nerve, a disease of the nerve, a damage to the nerve and it could be by any cause, but diabetic neuropathy is the damage of the nerve due to the high increase quantities of blood sugar. Peripheral neuropathy is just that the peripheral nerves have been affected—the nerves that are in the lower or upper extremities and what has happened is that there is a decrease in the velocity of the information on that nerve due to the quantity of sugar wrapped around that nerve. Those extremities will cause the patient to present tingling, numbness or a decrease in sensibility—that is peripheral neuropathy. Then you have the autonomic neuropathy that those nerves; its function will be basically maintaining the heart rate, the movement of the intestines, the function of the bladder and also the blood pressure. So when those nerves are affected by the quantity of sugar, then we will also have alterations with respect to those functions. Then you have focal neuropathy—it’s just that one specific nerve has been affected. For example: the facial nerve could be affected and the person could present facial paralysis or one of the nerves on the eye and the eye could go one way and the person is going to have double vision.”

According to Dr Mendez, having sustained high concentration of  sugar in the blood is what causes the damage to the nerves and the most common type he sees in his practice is peripheral neuropathy; he explains the long term impact if the blood sugar is not controlled.

Dr. Marco Mendez

“It is very common. Most of the time, it’s going to depend on the time that the patients have had diabetes. Most of the time, fifty percent of the patients that have diabetes after five years, they would present peripheral neuropathy. The more we leave the blood sugar uncontrolled, the more damage there is going to be on the nerve and most of the time the patients start to present alterations with sensitivity in the extremities. And due to an infection or due to a trauma that they don’t feel; that will process and since patients with diabetes have inadequate immune response that infection is going to progress and that could suffer from amputations or infections can go through the entire body.”

Detecting early symptoms of damage is essential. The initial warning signs depend on the type of nerve damage.

Dr. Marco Mendez

“The most common one is the numbness or the tingling which could be present in the hands or the lower extremities. Let’s say if the autonomic or the nerves that maintain our heart rate or also our blood pressure—those are affected—then the person can present dizziness or he could faint when he stands up from lying position. Also there can be increase in sweating during the night or decrease of sweating during the day, but also that person can present alterations within his gastro intestinal track. The patient could have vomiting, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, constipation. So there are many symptoms that the patient can present depending on the nerve affected.”

And while treatment will be administered based on the symptoms experienced; the nerve damage cannot be undone. Dr Mendez’s recommendation is Prevention.

Dr. Marco Mendez

“Of course having a routine, check of their blood sugar levels, having an adequate diet, exercising everyday and of course taking care of one of the areas that is most important and that is the feet. On a daily basis, the patient suppose to be examining his feet to see that there is no cracks, no dryness or any infections, any redness or any kind of formation or the nails must be cleaned very, very good because right through there is where the infections start in patients with diabetes.”

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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