If you have diabetes, you have levels of blood glucose that are too high because of problems with a hormone called insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas. Insulin is used by your cells to take glucose in so that it can be used for energy. Diabetics either produce little or no insulin, leading to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream. High levels of blood sugar can cause damage and lead to multiple, serious symptoms, including damage to your heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.
Types of Diabetes and the Damage They Cause
There are three main types of diabetes, including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Of these three types, type 2 diabetes is the most common. People who have either type of diabetes must manage their conditions in order to remain healthy. Gestational diabetes is a temporary type of diabetes that happens during pregnancy. In most women who develop it, gestational diabetes goes away after they give birth. Women who have gestational diabetes are much more likely to later develop type 2 diabetes.
If you were born with the condition, you have type 1 diabetes. It is an autoimmune disorder that is caused by your body’s antibodies attacking your pancreas, preventing it from producing the insulin that you need to process the glucose in your blood. People who have type 2 diabetes normally develop it when they are adults, but an increasing number of children are also developing the disease because of excessive weight.
If you suffer from type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you have a greater risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and nerve damage because of glucose damaging tiny blood vessels in the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. Diabetic neuropathy can also cause significant pain, leading to a need for nerve pain treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of the Onset of Nerve Damage and Pain
There are four types of nerve damage that you may develop when you have diabetes. Nerve damage normally occurs gradually, and you may not have symptoms until significant damage has already occurred.
The most common type of diabetes-related nerve damage, peripheral neuropathy involves damage to the nerves in your extremities, including your feet and legs, followed by your hands and arms. The symptoms that you may experience with the onset of peripheral neuropathy include the following:
- Nerve pain that worsens at night
- Sharp cramps or pains
- Burning or tingling
- Numbness or a reduced ability to feel pain
- Heightened sensitivity to touch
- Loss of reflexes, balance, and coordination
- Severe problems with the feet, including ulcers, deformities, joint and bone pain, and infections
This type of nerve damage happens to the nerves in your legs, buttocks, hips, or thighs. It most commonly occurs in people who are older and those who have type 2 diabetes. The symptoms of its onset include having one side that is more affected, experiencing severe and sudden pain in the affected area, having trouble standing from a sitting position, abdominal swelling, and weight loss. Eventually, the muscles in the area may weaken and atrophy.
Mononeuropathy’s onset is sudden, and it involves damage to a specific nerve in your face, legs, and torso. It can cause you to experience severe pain that may gradually diminish and disappear over several weeks or months. The symptoms of its onset will depend on which nerve is damaged and may include pain in your abdomen, chest, the front of your thigh, chest, pelvis, lower back, foot, and shin. You may also suffer from Bell’s palsy, have an aching behind your eyes, have double vision or difficulty focusing your eyes.
The final category of diabetes-related nerve damage occurs to the nerves in your autonomic nervous system, which controls your stomach, sex organs, eyes, heart, bladder, lung, and intestines. While this type of nerve damage is not associated with pain symptoms, it can cause serious symptoms in the organs which are affected, involving problems with digestion, sexual functioning, body temperature regulation, and others.
Medical Treatments for Diabetic Nerve Pain
Medical treatments for diabetic nerve pain are focused on slowing its progression, relieving pain, restoring function, and managing complications. Your doctor will try to help you to get your blood glucose levels under control to a hemoglobin A1C reading of less than 7 percent. In order to do this, you may be prescribed oral medications that help to reduce the glucose in your blood or to facilitate the production of insulin. You may also be prescribed injectable insulin and will need to take blood glucose readings several times a day. Oral medications for diabetes cannot be used for people who have type 1 diabetes or those with type 2 diabetes whose pancreases are unable to produce insulin.
Mild to moderate diabetic nerve pain may be managed by taking over-the-counter pain medications such as sodium naproxen, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin. It is important that you talk to your doctor if you are taking these every day because they can raise your risk of suffering a stroke, heart attack or kidney damage.
You may also be prescribed a number of other types of medications, including antiseizure drugs, opioid medications or antidepressants. Anti-seizure medications, including Neurontin, Tegretol and Dilantin, help with diabetic nerve pain. They have side effects of drowsiness, dizziness and swelling. Opioid pain-relief medications such as oxycodone or hydrocodone may be prescribed for pain relief. These drugs may cause drug dependence, and you may need increasing amounts in order to get pain relief. They should only be used on a short-term basis when nothing else has worked. Antidepressants may be prescribed because they affect the chemicals that are produced in your brain that cause you to feel pain. The side effects may include sweating, fatigue and dry mouth.
Natural Treatments for Diabetic Nerve Pain
Taking vitamin D can help you with diabetic nerve pain. U.K. researchers found that people whose vitamin D levels were lower experienced more severe diabetic nerve pain. You can take a supplement of vitamin D because it is difficult to get sufficient amounts from eating alone. Pain relief from vitamin D supplementation is very gradual, making supplementation likely insufficient to relieve the pain that you experience. It still may help to gradually reduce its severity over time, however.
Taking supplements of vitamins B12 and B6 is also a good idea. People who do not get enough B12 are more susceptible to nerve damage, and vitamin B6 is important because of its effect on brain chemicals that are used to send information throughout the body. If your levels of these chemicals are too low, you will experience heightened pain. An alpha-lipoic acid supplement may also be helpful as a natural treatment for diabetic nerve pain. An antioxidant, it helps to protect your nerves from suffering more damage.
Other natural treatments for diabetic nerve pain include acupuncture, biofeedback and meditation. These may help by changing your body’s response to the nerve damage, but their effectiveness is largely anecdotal.
Lifestyle Changes that Can Help You to Manage Diabetic Nerve Pain
Smoking can also cause increased nerve pain in people who have diabetes. It is a good idea to stop smoking so that your circulation will improve, allowing more nutrient-rich blood to reach your nerves. You may also need to adjust your diet to help you manage and control your blood glucose levels. Finally, research has demonstrated that low-impact exercises are helpful because of improving your range of motion, strength and circulation.
Diabetic nerve pain can be debilitating, and damage to your nerves may lead to other serious conditions. It is important for you to recognize the symptoms and to talk to your doctor about the best way for you to manage your pain and slow the progression of your disease.