Diabetic autonomic neuropathy, a common side effect of diabetes that is linked to a wide range of complications including digestive issues, erectile dysfunction, paralysis of the bladder and intestinal damage, is not only difficult to treat, it’s also difficult to diagnose.
Currently doctors rely on changes in digestive speed, heart rate and blood pressure to detect autonomic neuropathy, which puts limits on how early a diagnosis can be made.
Researchers in Taiwan, however, have developed a new device that diagnoses diabetic autonomic neuropathy earlier by monitoring the pupils of the eyes in those with diabetes.
Developed by Mang Ou-Yang and colleagues at National Chiao-Tung University and National Taiwan University Hospital, the new eye monitoring device can detect signs of diabetic autonomic neuropathy in the eyes, leading to earlier treatment that can result in better outcomes.
The device uses four colored LED lights to stimulate the pupil to change size repeatedly. The response time and speed are measured, and the results give researchers a new way to detect signs of the neuropathy.
The device works because the eyes and pupil both receive signals from both the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system, which control both the circular and radial muscles of the eye.
Slower reaction times may indicate neuropathy, helping medical professionals treat it more quickly and effectively.
“Compared to the existing diagnostic techniques, the pupillometer is a more reliable, effective, portable and inexpensive solution for diagnosing diabetic autonomic neuropathy in its early stages,” Ou-Yang said of the device.
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetic autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves in the control the digestive system, urinary tract, sex organs, heart and blood vessels, sweat glands and eyes.
Symptoms are wide-ranging, the ADA says, and can include:
• Indigestion or heartburn
• Nausea, vomiting undigested food or bloating
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Blood glucose levels are suddenly difficult to predict
• Bladder control problems
• Frequent bladder infections
• Sexual dysfunction including difficulty having erections in men or difficulty achieving orgasms in women
• Dizziness or fainting
• Faster than normal heartbeat at rest
• Warning signs of hypoglycemia have disappeared
• Overactive or underactive sweat glands
• Dry skin, especially on the feet
• Difficulty for eyes to adjust to changing light conditions, such as going from a dark place into somewhere bright.