For millions of people with diabetes, living with nerve pain means learning to improvise. Even the best medicines only cut nerve pain by about half, on average. And some people with diabetes might want to avoid the expense and potential side effects of additional prescription drugs.
If you have diabetes, you probably know the warning signs of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. "It's been described best as a little like the feeling you get when you're sliding on ice in a car: panic, rapid heart rate, [and] sort of a sense of doom," says John Buse, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, chief of the division of endocrinology, and executive associate dean for clinical research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
You also probably know that hypoglycemia...
Experts say the urge toward self-care is good. "There are a lot of effective things you can do at home to improve the pain from diabetic neuropathy," says Sue McLaughlin, RD, CDE, president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. "You live with it every day, and you can do something positive about it daily, too."
Peripheral Neuropathy: The Not-So-Minor Complication of Diabetes
Diabetic nerve pain is caused by nerve damage, the result of the toxic effects of high blood sugars and poor circulation. Over time, as more nerve fibers are lost, nerves lose their ability to transmit sensation. Numbness in the feet and legs is the common symptom that two-thirds of people with diabetes experience at some point.
The damage also makes nerves more likely to misfire. They may send pain signals in response to ordinary touching or for no apparent reason. "People frequently describe nerve pain as burning, electrical shocks, or pins and needles," says McLaughlin. Nerve pain is usually in the feet and legs, but can also be in the hands.
About 25% of people with diabetes experience nerve pain. Pain can range from annoying to debilitating, even making simple daily activities intolerably painful. Because symptoms are usually worse at night, neuropathic pain often interferes with sleep, and mood problems such as irritability and depression can follow.
"Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a so-called minor complication of diabetes, but not to the people who live with the pain it creates," says Laurence Kinsella, MD, professor of neurology at Saint Louis University and a fellow with the American Academy of Neurology.
"Medicines, and doctors for that matter, can only do so much. Everyone with this condition should be doing certain things for themselves at home too," Kinsella says.
WebMD asked the diabetes experts for guidance on some of the most widely used home care therapies for diabetic nerve pain. Here are the top 10 strategies -- some old standbys and a few surprises.
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Your level is currently
If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.
People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.
Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.
However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.
Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.
One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
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