Did you know that diabetic neuropathy affects as many as 50% of people with diabetes? It can cause pain, weakness, and tingling in your hands and feet. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments to help you find relief. The sooner you address the problem, the better your chances of managing its effects on everyday life. The first step to managing any disease is understanding what it is and how it will affect you long term. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about diabetic neuropathy.
What is Diabetic Neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy is a condition in which nerves become damaged, leading to tingling, numbness, burning, and pain in your hands and/or feet. It’s important to note that diabetic neuropathy is not the same as diabetes, but it a common complication of diabetes that damages the nerves due to uncontrolled high blood glucose levels and high levels of fats, such as triglycerides. It is caused when the nerves don’t properly receive the nutrients they need for normal functioning.
Diabetic neuropathy can affect people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, however individuals with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop it. When you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your risk of developing nerve damage increases. For most people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, focusing on healthy eating habits and maintaining an active lifestyle are the best ways to manage your condition and prevent complications like neuropathy. If you have recently been diagnosed with either type of diabetes, learn more about protecting yourself from developing diabetic neuropathy so you can lead an active and complication-free life.
Main Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy
There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy, and you can have any combination of them. The symptoms you experience depends on the type of nerve disorder and the severity of illness. Generally speaking, people do not notice anything is wrong until considerable damage to their nervous system has occurred.
Here are the various symptoms associated with different types of neuropathy:
- Peripheral Neuropathy: This the most common type of diabetic neuropathy and affects the feet and legs first, followed by the hands and arms. Signs include numbness or tingling at night—and cramps in your extremities if you’re active during those hours.
- Autonomic Neuropathy: The autonomic nervous system controls your blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, bladder function, digestive system, and sex organs. It may cause symptoms like low sugar levels (hypoglycemia), loss of appetite, and swallowing issues and urinary symptoms.
- Focal Neuropathy: Focal, also known as mononeuropathy, is damage to a single, specific nerve. It may affect the face, torso (or body as a whole), arm, or leg, and difficulty walking due to weakness.
- Proximal Neuropathy: This type of neuropathy typically affects the lower limbs. It may also affect nerves in other areas, such as the abdominal or chest region. Symptoms are often asymmetrical and can spread from one side to another over time.
Other common symptoms include:
- Burning or tingling sensations in the hands or feet – especially when resting.
- Weakness, or loss of strength, in the hands or feet.
- Changes in sensation, such as numbness or “pins and needles” feelings, especially in the hands and feet.
- Pain in the hands or feet that comes on suddenly, or pain that is worse at night.
- Swelling in the hands or feet.
- Changes in your ability to feel temperature, such as easily feeling too hot or too cold.
Main Causes of Diabetic Neuropathy
In diabetic neuropathy blood vessels become thick and less flexible, therefore they aren’t able to carry enough blood to the nerves. There are certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing nerve damage:
- Poor blood sugar control. Diagnosed diabetes increases the probability of diabetic neuropathy.
- History of diabetes. Chronic or long-term diabetes is more likely to cause nerve damage.
- Kidney disease. Kidney damage is also a long-term complication of diabetes. Damaged kidneys may relase toxins into the blood thereby damaging the nerves.
- Obesity. A BMI of 25 or more may increase the risk of diabetic neuropathy.
- Smoking. Smoking causes hardening of the arteries leading to reduced blood flow to the extremities and subsequent nerve damage.
6 Types of Treatment for Diabetic Neuropathy
The earlier you catch and diagnose diabetic neuropathy, the better you can manage the pain and associated symptoms. The goals of treatment are to slow progression, relieve pain, manage complications and restore function.
The recommended treatments for diabetic neuropathy include: –
- Medication: Doctors may prescribe a variety of medications to treat diabetic neuropathy and help with blood sugar control. Research shows that certain anti-depressant and anti-seizure drugs may help relieve nerve pain.
- Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce nerve pain, increase blood flow, control blood sugar levels and improve overall health.
- Self-management: Learning how to manage your diabetes better can help reduce your risk for diabetic neuropathy.
- Counseling/Therapy – Talking to a therapist can help you reduce stress, sleep problems, and other issues that may increase your pain and contribute to uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
- TENS: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation may be used to treat peripheral neuropathy by sending electrical impulses to specific nerve pathways. It is not recommended for everyone and you should see a physician before starting TENS treatment.
- Spinal Cord Stimulation – A relatively new FDA-approved technology that helps manage chronic pain. In a recent medical study, seven in 10 individuals who opted for an implanted spinal cord stimulation device reported pain reduction. The spinal cord stimulator (SCS) device is surgically placed under your skin and works by sending low levels of electricity directly into the spinal cord to relieve pain. Learn more about spinal cord stimulation at Relievus here.
When to See a Specialist for Diabetic Neuropathy?
If you have diabetes, the risk of developing problems in your nerves is high. If you start experiencing numbness or tingling in your hands or feet, it might be an early sign of diabetic neuropathy and you should see a pain specialist right away. Regular follow-ups with your physician will help you catch any nerve problems early and manage them with timely interventions.
Why Choose Relievus for Diabetic Neuropathy Pain Management?
Relievus offers a wide variety of treatments, coordinating all aspects of pain management with a team of board-certified physicians, advanced practitioners, chiropractors, and physical therapists. Book your appointment today!