Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur in people with diabetes. It most often damages nerves in the legs and feet, causing pain and numbness, but it can also lead to problems with the digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels and heart.

Generally, doctors diagnose neuropathy based on a person's medical history, symptoms, and a physical exam. But a device known as the Sudoscan detects neuropathy more accurately and earlier on than a physical exam could.

The device

During an exam, a doctor who suspects neuropathy may look for a lack of reflexes in the ankle, loss of feeling in the feet, skin changes, and a drop in blood pressure when a patient stands up or sits down.

The non-invasive Sudoscan can test for these issues in just a few minutes, with no special patient or equipment preparation. It does so by evaluating sweat gland function. That is, it analyzes how well a patient's skin conducts low-voltage stimulation based on the electrochemical reaction between electrodes and chloride in the sweat glands.

Research on the device found that patients with diabetes and neuropathy had significantly lower electrochemical skin conductance (ESC) than patients without neuropathy. Patients with painful neuropathy showed significantly worse ESC in their feet than those who weren't suffering from this condition.

According to experts, the Sudoscan produces more reliable data concerning nerve fiber dysfunction in comparison to a physiological exam. And it can detect nerve damage sooner rather than later, giving researchers hope that it could help prevent some of the many complications of diabetic neuropathy, including amputation.

Complications of diabetic neuropathy

Along with the possibility of losing a limb, diabetic neuropathy can cause a number of serious problems, such as:

• Low blood pressure
• Charcot joint (deteriorating joint)
• Hypoglycemia that goes unnoticed
• Urinary tract infections
• Low blood pressure
• Digestive problems
• Sexual dysfunction
• Social isolation and depression

Preventing neuropathy

The American Diabetes Association advises all people with diabetes to have a comprehensive foot exam, either by a doctor or by a foot specialist (podiatrist), at least once a year. Moreover, at every office visit, be sure to have your physician check your feet for sores, cracked skin, calluses, blisters, and abnormalities in the bones or joints.