Diabetes can cause long-term complications throughout your body, especially when not managed properly. One condition associated with diabetes is diabetic neuropathy, or diabetic nerve pain.
Diabetic nerve pain is characterized by numbness or tingling in the fingers, hands, toes, and feet. It may also cause aching, burning, and sharp pain. The tingling or pain tends to get worse over time, and can spread to the arms and legs.
Around 30-50% of people with diabetes mellitus experience nerve pain. This condition can wreak havoc on your life, affecting your ability to sleep, restricting your mobility, and increasing the risk for depression.
Although a serious complication, diabetic nerve pain can often be prevented or slowed down with the right care and lifestyle habits. Let’s learn more about diabetic nerve pain, and what you can do to feel your very best.
What Causes Diabetic Nerve Pain?
Scientists don’t know the exact causes of diabetic nerve pain. However, several factors are thought to contribute, which include:
- High blood sugar, which is a common condition associated with diabetes, interferes with the ability of the nerves to transmit signals. It also damages blood vessels which supply oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.
- Inflammation of the nerves occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks cells in the body thought to be foreign invaders. This autoimmune response affects the way the nerves work and communicate throughout the body.
- Genetic factors may also play a role in a person’s likelihood of developing nerve damage.
- The length of time you have diabetes affects your nerves. The longer you have diabetes, your risk of developing diabetic nerve pain increases.
- Being overweight or obese may increase the chance of developing nerve damage.
Signs & Symptoms of Diabetic Nerve Pain
If you have diabetes, it’s important to know the warning signs of nerve pain so you can seek out medical help if needed.
Common signs and symptoms of diabetic nerve pain include:
- Shooting pain that feels like an electric current
- Loss of balance
- Loss of feeling
How to Prevent or Treat Diabetic Neuropathy
The absolute best way to treat diabetic nerve pain is to manage your blood glucose levels. Keeping tight control of your blood sugar levels will prevent or slow the progression of damage to the nerves.
Below are some of the best ways to keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Eating a healthy diet rich in lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats, fruits, and veggies is one of the most effective ways to manage blood sugar levels and keep your hemoglobin A1c in the right range.
Aside from filling up on the right foods, you’ll want to limit the foods that affect your blood sugar. Processed, high-sugar foods such as white bread, white rice, desserts and pastries, candy, and sweetened beverages should be greatly limited in a diabetic diet. Instead, opt for healthy, guilt-free desserts to satisfy your sweet craving.
Studies show that exercise is a great way to help lower your blood glucose level. Not only that, but physical activity actually increases your insulin sensitivity. This means that after a workout your body doesn’t need to produce as much insulin to help process carbohydrates (*Pro tip: post-workout is a great time to have a higher-carb meal).
If that’s not enough, exercise also:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Improves body weight
- Builds muscle mass and strength
- Increases energy
According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, or a combination of both. Furthermore, they recommend a combination of both cardiovascular activity and strength training.
Take Proper Medication When Necessary
Your doctor may prescribe you insulin or other medications to help manage your diabetes symptoms and blood sugar levels. It’s imperative to keep up with your medications and take them according to the doctor’s orders.
Smoking tobacco constricts and hardens your arteries, which can damage the nerves and make symptoms worse. If you are a smoker, talk with your physician and get help to quit.
Monitor Blood Sugar Levels
As shown above, keeping blood sugar levels in check is the best way to manage diabetic neuropathy. The only way to know if your blood sugar is in the correct range is to regularly monitor it.
Talk with your doctor about the best target range for you and how to monitor it daily. In addition, it’s important to monitor your blood sugar levels by taking the A1c test between two and four times per year.
Just because you aren’t experiencing the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, doesn’t mean you can’t develop it down the line. That’s why it’s important to get a regular screening for nerve damage if you have prediabetes or type 1 or 2 diabetes.
The key is to catch the condition early. The earlier it’s caught, the less nerve damage that will occur and the better chance of slowing its progression. It’s recommended to get screened for diabetic neuropathy when you’re first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, or five years after you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. After that, you should get screened every year.
Diabetic Nerve Pain: In Conclusion
Diabetic nerve pain is a common and serious condition in people with diabetes. However, with the right lifestyle hacks in place, you can greatly reduce your risk or slow down its progression. Be sure to develop healthy habits, focus on keeping your blood sugar levels in check, and maintain regular visits with your doctor.