One of the most common complications of type 2 diabetes is a painful condition known as neuropathy, or diabetic nerve pain. About half of the people who have type 2 diabetes will have some form of neuropathy and although it can’t be cured, it can be managed. For this article, we will focus on peripheral neuropathy, which is the type of neuropathy most people associate with diabetes.
Types of Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of diabetic nerve pain and affects the feet, legs and hands.
Autonomic neuropathy affects body systems such as the urinary tract, intestinal tract, digestive system, heat, blood vessels and eyes.
Proximal neuropathy affects the thighs, hips, buttocks, and legs, causing weakness.
Focal neuropathy manifests itself as a sudden weakness of one nerve or muscle group and can affect the eyes, facial muscles, ears, chest, pelvis, abdomen, thighs, legs and feet.
What causes neuropathy?
Although the cause is not completely clear for all types of neuropathy, sustained high blood sugar is generally to blame. High blood sugar damages the delicate nerve fibers, most commonly in the legs and feet.
Symptoms of Neuropathy
There are a variety of symptoms to watch out for and it’s important to talk with your doctor as soon as you notice any of these signs.
- Tingling or burning sensation
- Sharp pains or cramps
- Reduced ability to feel pain or temperature changes
- Sensitivity to touch
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of reflexes, balance or coordination
- Sores, ulcers or infections of the foot
What can I do?
#1 Manage blood sugar. As with most of the complications of type 2 diabetes, the key is to manage your blood sugar and keep it in your target range. This can be a daily challenge, but it’s worth the extra effort put into prevention and it’s the most effective way to avoid or minimize the pain of neuropathy.
#2 Take care of your diabetes. When it comes to neuropathy, the best defense is a good offense. That means eating well and watching carbs, testing blood sugar as much as needed to understand how foods affect you, getting regular exercise and sleep, and following any medication plan prescribed by your doctor. The better you control your blood sugar, the better your chance of avoiding, delaying or managing diabetic neuropathy.
#3 Consult your doctor about medications. There are some medications that are designed to treat the pain associated with neuropathy—if you suffer from neuropathy, talk to your doctor about whether one of these is a good choice for you.
#4 Take care of your feet. Also, remember to treat your feet well. Keep them clean and moisturized and wear comfortable shoes that protect them. Check your feet every day and be especially watchful about any cuts or sores.
#5 Get moving! Regular exercise is important for managing blood sugar, but also helps with the discomfort of neuropathy by increasing blood flow. If walking is painful, try swimming or riding a stationary bike. Capsaicin cream or patches have been shown to help some people, while others use relaxation techniques like meditation, massage or yoga to help with their overall wellness.
#6 Find support. A support group can be a great way to share and learn from others what works and how they manage. We’d love to hear how you cope with neuropathy and what works for you.