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Diabetes and Nerve Pain: Rate Your Pain

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD, on September 12, 2011.

When it comes to diabetic nerve pain, your awareness of symptoms can help find just the right treatment for you.

About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes have some form of nerve pain and damage, called diabetic neuropathy, says the American Diabetes Association. When nerve damage shows up in the feet or hands, it's called peripheral neuropathy. Some of its symptoms are obvious, like pain, tingling, or a pins-and-needles feeling in the feet. But numbness and muscle weakness are also signs of nerve damage from diabetes.

Print out this nerve pain symptom checklist, fill it out, and take it with you each time you visit your doctor or other health care professional. Be sure you take a copy to any specialists you see, such as a podiatrist (foot doctor), ophthalmologist (eye doctor), or cardiologist (heart doctor). That way, everyone on your diabetes care team will be familiar with your pattern of symptoms and can advise you on the best diet, exercise, and medications to treat your nerve pain.

1. What kind of pain or numbness do you feel?
Check off the way your pain feels, and rate your symptoms from 1 (mild) to 10 (severe).

Has this changed since your last doctor's visit?
If so, how?

2. Where is your nerve pain or numbness?
Check off the way your pain feels, and rate your symptoms from 1 (mild) to 10 (severe).

Has this changed since your last doctor's visit?
If so, how?

3. When is your pain or numbness the worst?
Check off the way your pain feels, and rate your symptoms from 1 (mild) to 10 (severe).

Has this changed since your last doctor's visit?
If so, how?

4. Do your symptoms keep you from any normal, daily activities?
Check off the way your pain feels, and rate your symptoms from 1 (mild) to 10 (severe).

Has this changed since your last doctor's visit?
If so, how?

5. What seems to relieve your symptoms?

Activity that helps:
Self-care that helps:
Medications that help:
Other treatment that helps:

What causes diabetic nerve pain?

If you're wondering what causes nerve pain in the first place, it's probably a combination of factors, according to the National Diabetes Clearing House.

  • Nerves exposed to high glucose levels for long periods of time
  • High blood fats like high cholesterol, which damage the blood vessels that nourish nerves
  • Inflammation in the nerves caused by an autoimmune response (when your body reacts to a natural internal substance as if it's foreign and tries to "fight it off")
  • Genetic factors that make some people more prone to nerve damage
  • Smoking and alcohol (although precisely how these cause nerve damage is still unknown).

So while you're talking with you doctor about your nerve pain, you may want to explore which of these factors may be behind your symptoms and look for solutions together. There's no final "score" that's good or bad, too high or too low. Pain is a highly personal, subjective experience. Rating your pain isn't intended to diagnose your condition but to encourage an ongoing awareness of your symptoms and an open dialogue with your doctor. And since your symptoms are likely to change over time, tracking your pain between visits with your doctor can help you feel more empowered in your health care and more in touch with your own well-being.

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SOURCES: National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: "Diabetic Neuropathies: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes," "Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Nervous System Healthy," and "Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Diabetes Under Control." American Diabetes Association: "All About Diabetes," "Diabetic Neuropathy (Nerve Damage) and Diabetes," and "Could You Have Diabetic Neuropathy and Not Know It?" WebMD Medical Reference: "Peripheral Neuropathy & Diabetes: Risk Factors & Symptoms."

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