Some people with diabetes can develop diabetic peripheral neuropathy – a type of nerve damage characterized by numbness, tingling, and pain in their hands, fingers, feet, and toes.
This long-term problem occurs if you don’t control your diabetes effectively and if your blood sugar levels stay high for many years.
This condition can interfere with your daily activities, sleep, and overall well-being. It can even lead to depression. This is because the pain can increase so much that it becomes unbearable. Even the softest touch can be painful so this might affect even your walking.
So, what to do to reduce the symptoms and prevent the pain from worsening?
There are several prescription medications that can help alleviate the diabetes nerve pain, but they come with certain side effects. Plus, researchers explain they can reduce the pain only by 30-50%.
Besides medications such as pain-killers and over-the-counter creams, you can also take certain supplements and adopt several alternative treatments.
We explain all this and more, so read on to learn more about the treatment of diabetic neuropathy.
Even though you can’t fix the damaged nerves, there’s something you can do to prevent further damaging and alleviate the pain and other symptoms.
The first thing to do is start monitoring your blood sugar levels. You may want to ask your doctor to help you learn how to monitor correctly as well as set your blood sugar goal. Then, you have to make certain lifestyle changes and adopt certain habits to control your blood sugar levels properly.
The best way to control your blood sugar levels is through a combination of several factors:
Besides over-the-counter pain killers such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Aspirin which offer temporary pain relief, you can also consider taking the following medications for a more effective and longer term pain relief.
However, make sure you consult a doctor before taking any of them as they can cause certain side effects.
Anti-Seizure Drugs – gabapentin (Neurontin, Gabarone), pregabalin (Lyrica), carbamazepine (Tegretol, Carbatrol), and phenytoin (Dilantin). Besides preventing epileptic seizures, these drugs can help reduce nerve pain. Possible side effects include dizziness, swelling, and drowsiness.
Antidepressants – desipramine (Norpramin), imipramine (Tofranil), amitriptyline (Elavil), and other tricyclic antidepressants. They affect the brain chemicals responsible for feeling pain. Possible side effects include fatigue, dry mouth, and sweating. Also, people with heart problems shouldn’t take antidepressants, so it’s best to consult your doctor before considering any of them.
Opioid Pain Medicines – these are the last drugs to consider for treating diabetic nerve pain as they can cause serious side effects. Consult your doctor to establish if you really need them and be cautious if using them.
People with diabetic nerve pain should do low-impact exercises such as swimming. On the other hand, high-impact exercises can only worsen their nerve numbness.
Still, you might want to consult a trusted physical therapist to choose the right physical therapy methods for your condition, as well as prevent additional nerve damage.
Another option is capsaicin cream (Zostrix, Arthricare). It can relieve the pain and burning sensation of nerve damage thanks to the active ingredient in hot peppers – capsaicin. You can also find it as a patch, jelly, or lotion.
All you have to do is apply some of the cream to the affected area and rub it gently. The cayenne cream provides temporary diabetic nerve pain relief.
The journal Pain published a research which shows wearing capsaicin patch for two weeks can alleviate the pain by 30 percent. However, some people might be allergic to capsaicin, so make sure you consult your doctor before using capsaicin cream.
Also, avoid excessive sunlight exposure when having capsaicin lotion or cream applied on your skin.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield in Britain discovered that diabetic neuropathy patients with lower levels of vitamin D experienced stronger pain than those with normal levels.
Since the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 600 to 800 IU, it’s hard to obtain it only through food. Therefore, you can take it as a supplement. In fact, a study discovered that taking vitamin D supplement once per week for 2 months reduced the symptoms of people with diabetic neuropathy.
Vitamin B is vital for your nerve health. For instance, lack of vitamin B12 can cause nerve damage, whereas vitamin 6 stimulates the production of certain brain chemicals which send information throughout the body. If the levels of these chemicals is low, it can worsen the nerve pain.
Besides consuming vitamin B-rich foods, you can also take it as a supplement. But first, consult your doctor.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid is an antioxidant naturally found in our body. However, the human’s body doesn’t produce enough of it. Larger doses of this antioxidant can help ease nerve pain and regulate blood sugar levels.
One research showed that taking 600 mg of alpha-lipoic acid per day for five weeks can reduce the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy by 19%. In the long run, this antioxidant can prevent further nerve damage.
Wash your feet with warm water and mild soap, but make sure you dry them thoroughly afterward. Then, apply some lotion but avoid the area between toes since it’s most prone to fungal infections.
Did you know smoking constricts your blood vessels, thus impairing your blood flow? In other words, your peripheral nerves can’t get the necessary nutrient-high blood, resulting in more nerve pain.
Therefore, we highly recommend you to stop or at least avoid smoking if you suffer from diabetic nerve pain.
Stress worsens inflammation and all kinds of diabetes complications. You should find the right relaxation technique that helps reduce your stress, thus alleviating the diabetic neuropathy symptoms.
Some of them are meditation, exercise, yoga, doing outdoor activities such as walking in nature with friends or playing some sport. Find what works for you best and practice it to manage your stress levels.
Pay attention to any visible signs of nerve damage to your hands, feet, legs, and skin. That might be sores, blisters, ulcers, or other sign of injury. The American Diabetes Association says skin care and foot care is important for preventing and treating diabetic neuropathy.
Therefore, make sure you wash your feet, toenails, and skin carefully every day. Focus on skin folds prone to moisture and bacteria build-up to prevent infections.
Also, wear clean clothing and socks, and stay away from warm showers and hot temperatures. Don’t forget to file corns and cut your toenails regularly. Consult a doctor if you notice any swelling, redness, or infection starting.
Some researchers say capsaicin cream can help in this condition, but be cautious since sometimes it might cause skin irritation and burning.