Autonomic neuropathy. Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that regulate the various organ systems including the heart, digestion, respiratory, urination, sexual response, and vision functions. Autonomic neuropathy can cause changes in digestion, bowel and bladder function, sexual response, and perspiration.
Autonomic neuropathy can also cause hypoglycemia unawareness, a condition in which people no longer experience the warning symptoms of low blood glucose levels.
Digestive System. Nerve damage to the digestive system can cause a variety of problems. Nerve damage to the esophagus may make swallowing difficult. Nerve damage can cause the stomach to empty too slowly, a condition called gastroparesis. Gastroparesis can cause persistent nausea and vomiting, bloating, and loss of appetite. Gastroparesis can also make blood glucose levels fluctuate widely, due to abnormal food digestion. Nerve damage to the bowels can cause constipation alternating with frequent, uncontrolled diarrhea, especially at night. Problems with the digestive system can lead to weight loss.
Urinary Tract and Sex Organs. Autonomic neuropathy can affect the organs that control urination and sexual function in both men and women.
Nerve damage may cause an individual the inability to sense when the bladder is full or control the muscles that release urine. This can result in urinary incontinence or prevent the bladder from emptying completely, allowing bacteria to grow in the bladder and kidneys and causing urinary tract infections.
Autonomic neuropathy can also gradually decrease sexual response in men and women, although libido may be unchanged. A man may suffer from erectile dysfunction or be unable to ejaculate normally. A woman may have difficulty with arousal, lubrication, or orgasm.
Sweat Glands. Autonomic neuropathy can affect the nerves that control sweating which can create difficulty regulating body temperature. Nerve damage can also cause profuse sweating at night or while eating.
Eyes. Finally, autonomic neuropathy can affect the pupils of the eyes, making them less responsive to changes in light. As a result, a person may not be able to see well when a light is turned on in a dark room or may have trouble driving at night.