Jewels Doskicz is a registered nurse, freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. Jewels is the moderator of Diabetic Connect’s weekly #DCDE Twitter chat, and she and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes, the most common cause of painful neuropathies, consumes approximately one-third of those with diabetes with its physical and mental strains.

Nerve health can be compromised from diabetes. Its pathology isn’t well understood, but it is a pervasive problem, leaving people in pain during the day and keeping them up at night. The pain may be amplified by walking or by seemingly simple things like putting socks or shoes on.

What does nerve pain feel like?

The body’s nerves, a durable but sensitive pathway between our brain and body, serve important functions for our safety and well-being. When nerves malfunction or short-circuit, it can disrupt their normal functioning, sending uncomfortable messages to the brain or shutting down the messaging system all together.

If you’ve ever accidentally shocked or burned yourself, you have a good idea of what nerve pain feels like. A constant barrage of unbearable numbness, burning, tingling, and zapping pain greets those riddled with diabetic nerve pain on a daily basis.

Complaints are varied but tend to follow similar paths:

“My foot feels like it’s on fire!”
“I can’t feel parts of my feet.”
“I feel like I’m stepping on broken glass.”
“My toe feels like I stuck it in an electrical socket.”

Remember, nerve pain isn’t selective. People with diabetes may also have sexual dysfunctions, bladder impairments, or digestive issues (gastroparesis) related to neuropathies—all of these bodily functions are served by the nervous system.

The good news is that diabetic nerve pain can be cut in half with effective therapies, according to The American Academy of Neurology. In order to get help, it’s vital that you share your physical experiences with your healthcare provider.

There is no cure for neuropathy, but pharmaceutical options may help quell the symptoms.

Medication options

Once your healthcare provider diagnoses you with neuropathy, there are medications that may help. Finding one that works best for you may require some trial and error. Medications aren’t without their complicating side effects, but your healthcare provider can help you work through them.

Antidepressant medications

• Tricyclics are a certain type of antidepressants that have been found to be a helpful addition to control nerve pain.
• Amitriptyline, Desipramine, and Imipramine are frequently used medications.
• Side effects that you may experience include dry mouth, sweating, weight gain, constipation, and dizziness.

Anticonvulsant (seizure) medications

• Not all seizure medications help with nerve pain.
• Lyrica, Gabapentin, and Tegretol are common medications prescribed for nerve pain.
• Side effects that you may experience include dizziness, tiredness, and weight gain.

Other treatments

• Narcotic pain killers may be prescribed. Side effects that you may experience include drowsiness, constipation, dependence, and headaches.
• Topical creams, including Capsaicin or lidocaine creams, are used with limited success.
• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units are used with some success as well.
• Naturopathic treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and hypnotherapy have varied success rates.
• Sexual dysfunctions, gastroparesis, and bladder issues will be treated with medications that are specific to your symptoms. Your healthcare provider may also refer you to a specialist.

A word on preventive measures

Diabetes control is an important piece of the neuropathy puzzle. By keeping your blood sugars within the established target range, you can help prevent, delay, or even improve the signs of neuropathy that you have.