Diabetic Neuropathy Treatment
Neuropathy, or nerve pain, is a common problem among diabetics. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy and around one in five diabetics are estimated to suffer from nerve pain.
Diabetic neuropathy occurs as a result of high blood sugar, which damages the nerves over time. Unfortunately, there is no cure once the damage is done, and treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and slowing progression of the disease.
It is possible to manage the symptoms of the condition through medication and other interventions. In this article, we take a look at some of the best diabetic neuropathy treatment options currently available. However, by far the most important factor for all diabetics to consider is proper management of blood sugar levels.
Keep Your Blood Sugar Within Range
Diabetic neuropathy is caused by nerve damage due to high or uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Therefore, the best way to prevent or slow the progression of this condition is by keeping these levels within your target range.
Your physician or diabetic nurse will be able to tell you your personal target blood glucose levels. However, it is generally recommended that you keep your blood sugar within the following ranges:
- Fasting glucose (before food): 80–130 mg/dL or 4.4–7.2 mmol/L
- Postprandial glucose (two hours after food): 180 mg/dL or 10 mmol/L
To keep your blood glucose within the target ranges, it is vital that you monitor yourself at regular intervals throughout the day. You should also ensure that you eat and take your medication on time. If you use insulin, remember that if you eat more than normal, you may have to increase your dose accordingly.
Medication to Manage Pain
Medication can be used to manage pain, although regular painkillers such as acetaminophen may not be powerful enough to relieve diabetic neuropathy. Fortunately, there are several other medications that may help.
Medications such as pregabalin (Lyrica) and gabapentin (Neurontin) are generally used to treat seizures, but they are also effective for managing nerve pain.
Like all medication, these drugs can cause side effects. The most common side effects of anti-seizure drugs include:
- Dry mouth
- Feeling tired or drowsy
- Mood changes
- Blurred vision
- Erectile dysfunction
- Increase in body weight
- Memory loss
- Viral infections
Certain antidepressants can also be helpful as a diabetic neuropathy treatment. The most commonly prescribed drugs are tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and serotonin-noradrenalin reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as duloxetine (Cymbalta).
Possible side effects of antidepressants include:
- Dry mouth
- Digestive problems
- Sexual dysfunction
Your doctor may also recommend medication to treat some of the complications of diabetic neuropathy such as urinary tract problems, digestive issues and sexual dysfunction.
Capsaicin for Topical Pain Relief
Some people prefer to use topical creams, which are applied directly to the painful area. One of the best topical pain relief options for diabetic neuropathy is capsaicin, an ingredient found in chili peppers. Capsaicin cream helps relieve pain by blocking signals in the nervous system.
Capsaicin can cause side effects such as skin irritation or burning, so it should be used sparingly and tested on a small area of skin first.
Acupuncture: An Alternative Approach for Neuropathy Relief
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy that is best-known as a treatment for various types of pain. It uses fine needles placed at specific points on the body to rebalance the flow of a substance known as "qi."
Modern research has revealed that acupuncture relieves pain by interrupting signals in the nervous system and releasing chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are natural painkilling compounds secreted by your body and work in a similar way to drugs like morphine.
As a diabetic, monitoring your blood sugar levels is important in order to manage your condition properly. Learn about diabetic blood sugar levels here.
Learn Coping Strategies
Although they do not deal with the cause of pain directly, talking therapies such as CBT and practices like mindfulness may help relieve diabetic nerve pain. These interventions can help you be more aware of sensations in your body and cope with your symptoms more effectively.
Try ALA Supplements
ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) is a natural fatty acid with a range of health benefits. It has antioxidant properties and is thought to slow the progression of diabetic neuropathy by protecting nerve cells from damage.
Although ALA may have some benefits when taken orally, it is thought to be most effective for diabetic neuropathy when administered via injection. Ask your physician about whether this may be a suitable option for you.
It should be noted that although some studies indicate ALA may help diabetic neuropathy, the current evidence is somewhat inconclusive.
Home Remedies for Nerve Pain Relief
Some diabetics find that home remedies help relieve the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy. Some of the most common suggestions are walking regularly, taking a warm (but not hot) bath and wearing elasticated stockings.
Eliminate Neuropathy Risk Factors
If you suffer from diabetes, you can reduce your risk of developing or aggravating nerve pain by making some healthy lifestyle changes.
Keep your weight under control by eating well and exercising on a regular basis. A healthy diet will also help you control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, both of which are associated with diabetic neuropathy. It is also important that you stop smoking and decrease your alcohol intake as both of these can worsen neuropathy and diabetes symptoms in general.