Diabetic Autonomic Neuropathy
Internal Nerve Damage from Long-term Diabetes

Diabetic autonomic neuropathy may be why you cannot tell when your blood sugar is too low or why you faint when you stand too fast.

It affects us on the inside the way peripheral neuropathy damages nerves in our toes and fingers. For a diabetic autonomic neuropathy is another part of the destruction of nerve pathways caused by long-term high blood sugar.

The nerves that control your heart, regulate your blood pressure, and control blood sugar levels are part of your autonomic nervous system.

The word autonomic means those organs do their job without any effort on your part. But diabetic autonomic neuropathy makes your nervous system work with less efficiency when blood sugar is not well controlled.

Too much glucose riding around in your blood is tearing at your vessel walls, causing friction that weakens them. Your nervous system depends on those tiny blood vessels. So over time the damage begins to show.

For type 2 diabetics hyperinsulinemia compounds the problem. Too much insulin in your blood adds inflammatory effects.

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Your Heart and Autonomic Neuropathy

Your nervous system is supposed to adjust your blood pressure rate quickly based on what you are doing, but with diabetic autonomic neuropathy your blood pressure does not respond as fast as it should. It might drop suddenly if you sit up or stand.

You may feel light-headed and could faint just from getting out of bed. Some diabetics have a heart rate that stays high instead of rising and falling with activity. These are the hidden complications of type 2 diabetes that come after years of high blood sugar.

After many years of this your heart and blood vessels will take damage, showing up as heart disease, blood clots and blocked blood vessels.

Neuropathy and Digestion

Nerve damage to a type 2 diabetic includes all the other systems too: digestive, respiratory and renal (urination), as well as sexual responses and vision. Digestive problems show up early and are sometimes more annoying than scary.

Gastroparesis, the slowing down of digestion is one of them, and constipation is another. Knowing they can happen helps to prepare you. If your home remedies don't help, your doctor has an arsenal of GI medications that can ease the symptoms.

But there is a more serious problem caused by delayed digestion. It makes for crazy glucose levels and blood sugars that are hard to control. But if you understand that your body takes more time to process food and medications you can adjust, or at least not overreact to it.

Everyone is different, and you need to know the reaction time of things like metformin and insulin in your own body. Then you will not over-medicate and give yourself a hypoglycemic reaction. Those are dangerous.

Other Serious Problems You Should Watch For

A more dangerous diabetic autonomic neuropathy is in the warning system for low blood sugar. Attached to your digestion is a regulator that helps you restore blood sugar levels to normal after a bout of hypoglycemia.

Normally if your blood sugar dips much below 70 you'll have palpitations, sweating, anxiety and shakiness. But when that system is impaired the warning symptoms don't show up.

Hypoglycemia unawareness in an older type 2 diabetic is one of the causes of diabetic coma. Diabetics with this problem must invest in continuous monitors and warning devices that will wake them at night during hypoglycemic attacks.

Urinary and sexual systems are also affected by nerve damage. Your bladder may not empty completely after a few years with diabetes. This will allow bacteria to grow.

That is one reason bladder and kidney infections are a frequent problem for many of us. There is also urinary incontinence, another result of diabetic autonomic neuropathy we will deal with as we age.

Long-term diabetics often notice a decrease in sexual response and sensitivity because of nerve damage. A urologist or gynecologist knows how to treat the symptoms of this complication.

Ask for help because there is a lot they can do. You do not have to just live with it.

Feeling Cold and Night Blindness

Do you get cold easily these days? Diabetic autonomic neuropathy makes your sweat glands less responsive, so your body cannot regulate its temperature like it used to.

You might be wearing sweaters when everyone else is in short sleeves, or you may begin sweating suddenly for no reason, perhaps after a meal.

If you are having trouble driving at night or you are blinded for a few seconds when someone turns on a light, those are symptoms of diabetic autonomic neuropathy.

Your pupils are slower to react to changes in intensity of light, so you have to be careful when driving at night.

What Can You Do?

All of these types of diabetic autonomic neuropathy have the same cause as peripheral neuropathy, so the same things will make both of them better.

Since high blood sugar worsens neuropathy, keeping your blood sugar under better control will improve neuropathy. At the very least it will stop the progression of the complications.

Exercise and a good diabetic diet with healthy food are proven ways to reverse the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. They will also end the insulin resistance that made you a type 2 diabetic.

Add some diabetic superfoods with their antioxidant effects to improve nerve damage everywhere in your body. There are carrots for your eyes, cherries for your digestion, cranberry for your bladder and kidneys, and the list goes on.

Perhaps knowing what causes some of the strange symptoms you experience as a type 2 diabetic will lower your stress and help you to cope.

For me, seeing the cause of diabetic autonomic neuropathy has made it easier to accept the need to change. May it do the same for you.

Here are seven things you can do to avoid diabetic complications.

Diabetic nephropathy is not something you want sneaking up on you.

With type 2 diabetes you need to protect your eyes.

Return to diabetic complications from diabetic autonomic neuropathy.