Diabetic neuropathy is a nerve disorder caused by diabetes. The damage to the nerves reduces the ability of the nerves to carry messages to the brain and other parts of the body. Symptoms can vary, but numbness and tingling are usually the first signs of diabetic neuropathy. Some people experience no symptoms, others have severe pain or insensitivity to pain, and others experience some combination of each.
There are two major types of diabetic neuropathy: diffuse and focal. Diffuse neuropathy affects larger areas and the damage is not focused in a single place. Diffuse diabetic neuropathy can either effect peripheral body parts, such as the legs, feet, hands, and arms, or it can affect autonomic parts of the body, including the heart, digestive system, sexual organs, urinary tract, and sweat glands. Common symptoms of diffuse neuropathy include numbness, tingling, sharp pain or cramps, extreme sensitivity to touch, and loss of balance and coordination. Focal neuropathy appears suddenly and affects specific nerves, most often in the torso, legs, or head. This kind of neuropathy is unpredictable and occurs most frequently in older people with mild diabetes. Focal neuropathy can be quite painful, but it usually improves by itself over a period of weeks and leaves no long-term damage.