Neuropathy in diabetes: Symptoms and treatments

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Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes, affecting up to 50% of people with the condition.

It results from prolonged high blood sugar levels, which damage the nerves throughout the body.

This review will explore the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and the treatments available, using accessible language and supported by research to help non-scientists understand this complex condition.

Diabetic neuropathy typically starts with a tingling sensation, numbness, or pain in the feet and hands—these are the early warning signs that nerves are being damaged by diabetes.

As it progresses, these symptoms can spread to other parts of the body and intensify.

Some people may experience sharp pains or cramps, while others might find their feet are overly sensitive to touch.

For some, it may lead to a loss of sensation, which can be dangerous as it increases the risk of injury without the individual realizing it.

Another serious concern with diabetic neuropathy is its impact on body functions. For instance, it can affect the digestive system, leading to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. In men, it might cause erectile dysfunction.

Furthermore, when it affects the nerves that control the heart and circulation, it may lead to changes in heart rate and blood pressure, making it a potentially life-threatening condition.

The treatment of diabetic neuropathy primarily focuses on slowing its progression, managing complications, and relieving pain. The most critical step in treatment is to manage blood sugar levels effectively.

Keeping blood sugar consistently within a target range can significantly slow the progression of nerve damage. This requires a combination of healthy eating, regular physical activity, and sometimes, diabetes medications or insulin therapy.

Pain relief is another crucial aspect of treatment. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help manage mild symptoms.

For more severe pain, physicians may prescribe medications like antidepressants or anticonvulsants, which have been found to be effective in reducing nerve pain.

Antidepressants work by altering the chemicals in the brain that cause you to feel pain, while anticonvulsants are traditionally used to treat epilepsy but also work to stabilize nerve signals.

Capsaicin cream, which is derived from chili peppers, can also be applied to the skin to reduce pain. It works by decreasing the amount of substance P, a chemical that helps transmit pain signals.

Another topical option is a lidocaine patch, which numbs the area it is applied to, providing relief from pain.

For those with severe symptoms that do not respond to other treatments, a treatment known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) might be recommended.

This involves wearing a small, battery-operated device that delivers electrical impulses to the nerves, which can help block pain signals.

Recent research has also explored the potential of alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant, to relieve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Studies have shown that it can improve symptoms by protecting the nerves from further damage.

Additionally, physical therapy can be beneficial, helping patients improve their balance and muscle strength, reducing the risk of falls caused by numbness in the feet.

It’s also essential for patients with diabetic neuropathy to take good care of their feet and other affected areas to prevent complications. This includes regular inspection of the feet for injuries, wearing appropriate footwear, and avoiding activities that could cause harm.

In conclusion, diabetic neuropathy is a serious condition that can significantly impact quality of life but managing blood sugar levels and using various treatments can help alleviate symptoms and slow progression.

With ongoing research and improvements in diabetes care, there is hope for better management strategies in the future.

If you care about diabetes, please read studies about Vitamin D and type 2 diabetes, and to people with diabetes, some fruits are better than others.

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