The nervous system is the system of nerves which travel throughout the body passages messages via electrical impulses.
The brain is key to the nervous system and provides the processing power to make sense of information provided by the nerves and gives instruction back through the nerves to guide our physical responses.
Role of the nervous system
The nervous system allows the body to take in and process information on what is happening around and inside us and take appropriate action.
Some of these actions will be automatic or reflex responses, whereas other actions will come directly from our own choice.
What are the components of the nervous system?
The nervous system is made up of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
The central nervous system encompasses the brain and the spine. The brain is the processing centre of the nervous system.
The spinal cord is like the trunk of a tree, extends from the brain down our back and branching off into the many different nerves which make up the peripheral nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system is made up of all the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord.
The peripheral nervous system includes the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary functions such as our heart rate and perspiration, and also includes the enteric nervous system which governs our gastrointestinal response.
The brain is a key organ enabling us to understand and interact with our surroundings. The brain communicates with the rest of our body via the nerves.
The skull keeps the brain intact from the outside and the blood-brain barrier helps to allow certain nutrients into the brain whilst keeping any harmful substances in the blood away from the brain.
The spine acts as a nerve highway from the brain out to the periphery nervous system. The bones of the spine play an important role helping to protect the nerves travelling through the spine from damage.
Damage to the spinal nerves is often very serious and can sometimes result in paralysis.
There are different types of nerves. Sensory nerves carry impulses from out sensory organs, such as our eyes and skin, to the brain for processing allowing us to see, feel and experience other senses.
Motor nerves carry impulses away from the brain to organs and muscles allowing our muscles and organs to move and respond as appropriate.
How diabetes can affect the nervous system
If blood glucose levels remain high for extended periods of time over a number of years, the blood vessels which feed the nerves can become damaged and can lead to the nerves themselves becoming damaged.
Damage to the nerves can lead to loss of feeling in extremities such as the hands and lower legs.
If damage is sustained to nerves leading to organs such as our digestive organs, this can affect the functioning of these organs.
What is diabetic neuropathy?
Neuropathy is the name for nerve damage. Nerve damage can take the form of sensory neuropathy, motor neuropathy or autonomic neuropathy.
Neuropathy is understood to be present in up to 50% of people with diabetes.
Nerve damage in the feet is particularly dangerous for people with diabetes, putting us at a higher risk of foot damage which could lead to amputation.
As neuropathy is common in diabetes, we are advised to check our feet regularly.