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Autonomic Neuropathy

The body has two different types of nervous systems:

The Sensorimotor Nervous System
The sensorimotor nervous system includes the nerves that send information about how things feel from the skin and internal organs to the brain (sensory nerves). It also includes the nerves that send information about movement from the brain to the body (motor nerves). If you place your hand on a stovetop burner and it feels hot, your sensory nerves send this message to the brain. In turn, the brain will sense this and send a message through the motor nerves telling your hand to move away from the burner.

The Autonomic Nervous System
The other nervous system is the autonomic nervous system. It controls involuntary or automatic functions, such as heart rate, digestion and bladder and sexual function. The autonomic nervous system tells your heart to speed up when you are running and slow down when you stop. It also controls blood pressure whether you are standing, sitting or lying down.

Autonomic neuropathy is caused from prolonged elevated glucose levels. Nerve cells do not need insulin to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Therefore, when blood glucose levels are above normal, the glucose level inside the nerve cells is also high. These high glucose levels may be toxic to the nerves.

Damage to the autonomic nerves can affect major systems in your body, such as the heart, the stomach and intestines, the sexual organs, the bladder, eye, sweat glands and hypoglycemia awareness.

You can prevent or dramatically slow the development of neuropathy.
By maintaining good blood sugar control the symptoms of neuropathy can be prevented or relieved somewhat. A recent diabetes study showed that tight blood sugar control could reduce the risk of nerve disease by 60%. However, you may not be able to reverse extensive nerve damage.

If you have further questions about autonomic nerve disease, contact your diabetes healthcare team.