Here we review some seldom-discussed presentations of diabetic neuropathy, including large fiber dysfunction and peripheral autonomic dysfunction, emphasizing the impact of sympathetic/parasympathetic imbalance. Diabetic neuropathy is the most common complication of diabetes and contributes additional risks in the aging adult. Loss of sensory perception, loss of muscle strength, and ataxia or incoordination lead to a risk of falling that is 17-fold greater in the older diabetic compared to their young nondiabetic counterparts. A fall is accompanied by lacerations, tears, fractures, and worst of all, traumatic brain injury, from which more than 60% do not recover. Autonomic neuropathy has been hailed as the "Prophet of Doom" for good reason. It is conducive to increased risk of myocardial infarction and sudden death. An imbalance in the autonomic nervous system occurs early in the evolution of diabetes, at a stage when active intervention can abrogate the otherwise relentless progression. In addition to hypotension, many newly recognized syndromes can be attributed to cardiac autonomic neuropathy such as orthostatic tachycardia and bradycardia. Ultimately, this constellation of features of neuropathy conspire to impede activities of daily living, especially in the patient with pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. The resulting reduction in quality of life may worsen prognosis and should be routinely evaluated and addressed. Early neuropathy detection can only be achieved by assessment of both large and small- nerve fibers. New noninvasive sudomotor function technologies may play an increasing role in identifying early peripheral and autonomic neuropathy, allowing rapid intervention and potentially reversal of small-fiber loss.
Keywords: Autonomic dysfunction; Diabetic peripheral neuropathy; Falls/fractures; Quality of life; Sudorimetry.
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