Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most hideous symptoms of a devastating disease, and can result in loss of limbs and eyesight, debilitating pain—and even death. I’m about to ask a favor of anyone reading this who is diabetic, but first, a brief description of diabetic neuropathy for those who haven’t already learned about it.
There are various kinds of neuropathies, or damage to the nervous system, that can result from diabetes. In diabetes, neuropathies are believed to be caused by long-term exposure of the nerve cells to high blood glucose and possibly by low levels of insulin. Symptoms of neuropathies depend on the type of nerve damage:
Peripheral neuropathies, the most common, cause pain or numbness in toes, feet, legs, hands, arms, or fingers.
Diabetic autonomic neuropathy (DAN) affects the autonomic nervous system and may cause changes in digestion, bowel or bladder function, sexual response and perspiration.
Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN), one of the most serious versions, damages the nerve fibers that control the heart and blood vessels, resulting in cardiovascular disease.
Proximal neuropathy causes pain in the thighs, hips or buttocks and leads to weakness in the legs.
Focal neuropathy results in the sudden weakness of one nerve or group of nerves, causing pain or weakness in that area. While painful, focal neuropathy usually does not lead to more severe, long-term problems.
The most insidious aspect of diabetic neuropathy is that by the time you experience symptoms, the nerve damage is already done. Various therapies are available for treating the symptoms and slowing nerve damage, but the best of all approaches is PREVENTION. The best prevention is keeping blood sugar under control, but as the nerve damage often takes place long before you notice symptoms, wouldn’t it be great if there were some way to detect the onset of neuropathy before damage has been done?
While neuropathy testing has been added to the treatment recommendations of the American Diabetes Association, testing for diabetic neuropathy is usually not a part of your annual or biannual visit to the doctor. (If it is, we applaud your physician!) Neuropathy is usually diagnosed after you have developed symptoms—by which time, it is too late to reverse the damage; it can only be managed.
There is, however, a way to test for diabetic neuropathy that is non-invasive, not painful, and easy. Heart rate variability (HRV) can be used to identify nerve damage in very early stages, which would allow diabetic patients to seek help from their physicians before greater damage has occurred. (For an explanation of HRV, download our whitepaper on HRV or see the article on HRV in Wikipedia.)
SweetWater Health is working on an iPhone app that would allow diabetics to test themselves at home as often as desired (though twice a year is usually sufficient). The app would require the purchase of a compatible heart rate monitor such as athletes use, usually priced under $100. You would perform three simple physical exercises while wearing the monitor and the app will tell you if you are experiencing damage to your nervous system.
Now for the favor. If you are diabetic and are interested in the development of such an app, please go to http://www.sweetwaterhrv.com/dan.php and let us know. Your input will help us by letting us know there is a genuine need and desire for such a product. You can also sign up for more information about the product and volunteer to be a beta tester if you want.
Sincere thanks for taking the time to help us help you!
 “Diabetic Cardiovascular Autonomic Neuropathy,” A. Vinik, MD, PhD, FCP, MACP; D. Ziegler, MD, PhD., FRCPE; Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine, Jan. 22, 2013.