Diabetic neuropathy describes a type of nerve damage in people with diabetes that affects various nerves in the body. Diabetic neuropathy usually develops slowly over time and can cause symptoms, such as pain, numbness, and tingling.

High glucose levels in the bloodstream can cause damage to the nerves and affect any part of the body. This can cause different types of diabetic neuropathy, such as peripheral, autonomic, focal, and proximal neuropathies.

Read on to learn more about how long diabetic neuropathy takes to develop and what symptoms can occur. This article also discusses treatment options, how doctors diagnose the condition, and more.

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A person with diabetes may develop diabetic neuropathy shortly into their condition.

However, it is more common for a person to have diabetes for several years before developing diabetic neuropathy.

Learn more about diabetic neuropathy.

There are different types of diabetic neuropathy with varying symptoms.

Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy typically affects the:

  • legs
  • feet
  • arms
  • hands

Symptoms can include:

  • a “pins and needles” sensation
  • a burning sensation
  • numbness
  • weakness
  • extreme pain
  • trouble sensing pain or temperature in the affected areas
  • loss of balance

Learn more about peripheral neuropathy.

Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control the internal organs and typically affects:

  • blood pressure
  • sexual organs
  • the digestive system
  • the bladder
  • eyes
  • the ability to sense when blood glucose levels are low

Symptoms can include:

Learn more about diabetic autonomic neuropathy.

Focal neuropathies

Focal neuropathies typically affect single nerves. They can cause trapped nerves, which may lead to symptoms such as:

  • pain
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • weakness.

Cranial neuropathies are focal neuropathies that affect the nerves in the head. They can cause symptoms such as:

Focal neuropathies are less common than autonomic neuropathy or peripheral neuropathy.

Proximal neuropathy

Proximal neuropathy is rare and often very painful. It typically affects the hip, buttock, or thigh on one side of the body.

Symptoms can include:

  • pain that can come on suddenly and severely
  • muscle wasting
  • weakness in the legs
  • impaired reflexes
  • unexplained weight loss

When a person has diabetes, their blood glucose levels are typically too high.

Over time, the high amount of glucose in the bloodstream can damage the small blood vessels that supply the nerves.

This prevents essential nutrients from reaching the nerves, which can cause damage.

A doctor will typically diagnose diabetic neuropathy by asking a person a series of questions about their symptoms, taking a full medical history, performing a physical exam, and ordering various tests.

Some of the tests for diabetic neuropathy can include nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG).

Nerve conduction studies test how fast electrical signals travel through the nerves. EMG checks the health of the nerves that are in control of the muscles.

Treating diabetes may help manage symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. This can include:

  • avoiding smoking
  • avoiding alcohol
  • getting enough regular physical activity
  • maintaining a moderate weight

Learn about treating diabetes.

A doctor may also recommend medications for nerve pain, which can include antidepressants.

Learn more about medications for diabetic neuropathy.

A person may be able to prevent or delay diabetic neuropathy by keeping their blood glucose levels close to their target range.

Other steps a person can take to help prevent diabetic neuropathy include:

  • managing blood pressure
  • getting enough regular physical activity or exercise
  • avoiding drinking alcohol
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • avoiding smoking

A person’s doctor can provide more advice on ways they can reduce their risk of diabetic neuropathy.

Here are some frequently asked questions about diabetic neuropathy.

Can diabetic neuropathy come on suddenly?

Diabetic neuropathy symptoms typically develop slowly over time. It is more likely to happen gradually.

What does the beginning of diabetic neuropathy feel like?

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can depend on the type of neuropathy. A person may begin to feel pain, tingling, and numbness.

How quickly can neuropathy progress?

Diabetic neuropathy can progress at different times depending on the type of damage a person has. It may progress quickly over days or weeks, or more slowly over many years.

Do all people with diabetes eventually get neuropathy?

Approximately 50% of adults with diabetes will develop diabetic neuropathy in their lifetime.

Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur when a person has diabetes. It typically develops gradually over time.

There are several types of diabetic neuropathy, which can each present with different symptoms. Some symptoms can include numbness, a tingling sensation, and pain.

To diagnose diabetic neuropathy, a doctor may perform various tests, including nerve conduction studies and electromyography.

Managing diabetes may help a person reduce symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. A doctor may also recommend medication to help manage pain.