Autonomic Neuropathy: More Dangerous than You Think
If you read our articles often, you know that we usually talk about peripheral neuropathy in terms of the pain and inconvenience it can cause for your patients.  We usually write about quality of life, but it’s also important to know about a much more serious element that can threaten the lives of the people you treat: autonomic neuropathy.
Autonomic neuropathy is the term that means damage has been done to the nerves that control the automatic functions of your body.  These functions include blood pressure, heart rate, bowel and bladder emptying, and digestion.  When the nerves are damaged, these functions can start to behave incorrectly.  It can be dangerous and even life-threatening when this happens.
If your patients are presenting with symptoms of nerve damage like numbness or tingling, loss of motor control, sexual dysfunction, dizziness and sweating, or loss of hot and cold sensation, they may also have more serious damage to the nerves controlling your organs.

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Many cases of autonomic neuropathy accompany cases of peripheral neuropathy that have more easily-noticed symptoms.  With autonomic neuropathy, a patient’s body can have trouble controlling their blood pressure, they might not digest food correctly, or they could have problems regulating their body temperature.  These conditions are dangerous!
Make sure your patients know they could be at serious risk!
Autonomic neuropathy isn’t a disease of its own, and it’s not caused by any one thing.  If your patients  suffer from injuries, have had an amputation, or even spend long amounts of time sitting still, they can be at risk of developing nerve damage.  As you probably know, though, autonomic neuropathy goes along with a disease or condition, such as:

  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer (specifically, chemotherapy)
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Lupus

If you work with patients who suffer from any of these conditions, be on the lookout for autonomic neuropathy.   Don’t rule out a patient just because he or she doesn’t have any of the “peripheral” symptoms!  Even if they are symptom-free, a patient might have damage threatening their organs.  We can’t emphasize enough that catching neuropathy early, especially the autonomic kind, gives you more treatment options and is the best way to help your patients.  Don’t forget: we’re talking about a life-threatening condition!
How can you determine if a patient’s organs are in danger?
Ask questions.  Patients can be shy about their lifestyle, exercise, diet, habits, and so on, but they’re the best source of information.  Remind them that you are here to help, not to judge.  It is vital to know any symptoms they might have, or any relevant medications or existing conditions that might contribute to neuropathy.
If you have any questions about how to examine a patient for signs of neuropathy, contact us! NeuropathyDR® has the resources you need to detect autonomic neuropathy early.  Most commonly, an examination of the extremities for infections or sores is a good first step, along with testing for blood pressure irregularities.  For autonomic neuropathy in particular, an ultrasound can help determine if the internal organs are functioning correctly.  There are also a number of other tests that are specific to certain organs such as the bladder, stomach, or lungs.
For autonomic neuropathy, taking the best care of your patient can mean a couple of different treatments used together to keep them healthy.  Several kinds of medications are available which will help slow the effects of nerve damage and reduce the symptoms.  Contact us for guidance on specific medications that might help; it can vary from patient to patient.
It can also be helpful to instruct patients about ways to make your everyday routine more conducive for living with neuropathy (again, NeuropathyDR® is a valuable resource for you in this area).  Patients usually have to adjust their diet, and certain kinds of exercise may be more dangerous to people with neuropathy.  We can help you find the best foods to recommend to your patients, as well as help develop exercise plans that are safe and beneficial to them.
There’s no absolute cure for neuropathy, but becoming a NeuropathyDR® doctor will equip you to help your patients when it comes to keeping them safe from the different kinds of neuropathy.  Remember, don’t wait!  The earlier you catch neuropathy, the better you can help!

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