What Are The Causes and Symptoms of Diabetic Encephalopathy?

Encephalopathy is defined as brain disease, damage or malfunction. It characteristically results in an altered mental state, sometimes accompanied by such physical manifestations as tremors or lack of coordination of limb movements. Oftentimes there are changes in personality as well.

There are many, many causes for encephalopathy, and the cause is usually one of the more than 150 descriptors attached to the diagnosis. For instance, hepatic encephalopathy is damage to the brain caused by liver disease. Lyme encephalopathy is the result of advanced Lyme disease.

Diabetic encephalopathy is the result of damage to the brain caused by diabetes. It can cause symptoms that range from mild memory issues to severe impairment, including dementia, seizures and coma.

While diabetic encephalopathy may occur in patients with either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, the nature of the cognitive deficits tends to be different in each.

Type 2 Diabetes and Encephalopathy

The primary symptom of encephalopathy is diminished brain function. This can take many forms. Type 2 diabetes tends to be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

A 2011 study of more than 1000 men and women over age 60, published in the journal Neurology, found that people with diabetes were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease over fifteen years as those participants who did not have diabetes. They were also 1.75 times more likely to develop other forms of dementia than non-diabetics in the study.

There is no specific answer as to why this is, but a lot of research is going on to determine the exact mechanisms. Some researchers say that insulin resistance may interfere with the body's ability to break down amyloid, a protein that contributes to the formation of brain plaques, which have been implicated in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

Others postulate the theory that microvascular inflammation can affect the blood vessels in the brain, hardening them and lessening blood flow. This effect, combined with an excess of insulin in the brain, can damage the brain's ability to process proteins.

Type 1 Diabetes and Encephalopathy

Type 1 diabetics, on the other hand, are less likely to experience dementia but more likely to experience learning disabilities, impacts on intelligence development and memory retrieval issues as the result of encephalopathy. This is primarily because type 1 typically occurs in younger patients, whose brains are developing quickly, even as their bodies are suffering the effects of the disease.

Treatment of Diabetic Encephalopathy

Treatment of the consequences of encephalopathy will center on the symptoms exhibited and the underlying cause. In the case of diabetic encephalopathy, maintenance of stable blood sugar levels is critical, to avoid further damage.

There are some prescription drugs available to address the symptoms and progress of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Some are effective for only a limited period of time.

If the patient is unable to care for themselves, or to maintain a protocol for evaluating insulin dosage needs, then assistance should be provided.

Sources: National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health, MedicineNet, CNN.com
Photo: Pixabay

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