Peripheral diabetic neuropathy is a complicated name for an unpleasant complication of diabetes. It means nerve damage in the feet, legs, hands or arms, most often caused by blood sugar levels that remain too high over a long time. About half of all people with diabetes will gradually develop some form of neuropathy.
There is no cure for neuropathy. But doing your best to keep your blood sugar levels in your target range can help reduce symptoms and prevent them from getting worse.
What neuropathy feels like
Diabetic nerve damage can produce a variety of symptoms, often starting in the toes and feet. They may become numb, losing the feeling that can alert you to injuries. You might feel tingling, or a “pins and needles” sensation. Feet may also become sensitive to touch. But persistent pain is often the leading complaint. It can range from mild to severe. There may be sharp, stinging pain, deep, aching pain, shooting or burning pain – and your feet may hurt at night when you are trying to sleep.
No wonder people with diabetic nerve pain are eager to find relief.
Good medicine for nerve pain
A number of different medicines are used to relieve diabetic nerve pain. Results vary from person to person, and side effects do too. So it’s important to work with your doctor to find the best pain reliever for you, and adjust the dosage or medication if you’re not satisfied with the results.
Interestingly, some of the most effective prescription pills for nerve pain were originally approved for a different use, such as treating depression or seizures. Later research proved their worth in relieving nerve pain. So don’t be confused if your doctor recommends, for example, a bipolar disorder drug for pain relief.
Medication options include:
-Over-the-counter pain pills – such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve) or aspirin. These may provide limited relief for short periods. Even though you can buy them without a prescription, using them too often or in higher than recommended doses can be harmful.
-Capsaicin cream – Derived from cayenne peppers, this cream is applied to the skin over the painful area. It may help relieve minor nerve pain, and it too needs no prescription.
-Anti-seizure medicines – Some, such as gabapentin and carbamazepine, work much better than other drugs in this class for nerve pain relief. All may cause dangerous side effects in some cases; ask your doctor about them and make sure you are closely monitored.
-Antidepressants – Duloxetine may relieve diabetic neuropathy, and so could a different class of “tricyclic” antidepressants including nortriptyline and desipramine.
-Skin patches – Lidocaine, a topical anesthetic, may be applied directly to painful spots via adhesive patches.
-Opioids – These potent narcotics, including oxycodone (OxyContin) and tramadol (Conzip) are used to treat many kinds of severe pain. The potential for addiction or serious side effects may make them a poor choice for long-term use.
You and your doctor may find that taking two or more different drugs at the same time gives you better pain relief. If your doctor prescribes an antidepressant or anti-seizure medicine for neuropathy pain, it may take weeks to tell whether it works.
Other treatments for nerve pain
Though there may be less clinical evidence of their merits, some people swear by non-drug therapies, including:
-Exercises and stretching
-Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
You may want to think twice about using heat or ice for diabetic nerve pain. Numbness associated with neuropathy could make it hard for you to tell if your skin becomes dangerously hot or cold.
Work together with your doctor to learn which treatments work and which don’t, and be open to making changes as your symptoms change over time. You may never be entirely free of pain, but chances are you can relieve it greatly and get back to doing the things you enjoy most.
To learn more about diabetic neuropathy:
5 Must-Do Actions when Living with Neuropathy
Tips to Keep Feet Healthy during Flip-Flop Weather
Can Vitamin Therapy Ease Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms?