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Coping With Diabetes Nerve Pain

Chronic nerve pain from diabetic peripheral neuropathy can cause emotional ups and downs. You might experience fear, anger, denial, disappointment, guilt, or even loneliness. But you should also feel hope and optimism. While living with chronic pain is not easy, the right treatment can bring relief.

"Chronic pain does take an emotional toll," says Christopher Gibbons, MD, director of the Neuropathy Clinic at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, and instructor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. "Family members may be supportive, but someone in chronic pain can be very difficult to live with. They're upset, angry, hurt -- understandably. Chronic pain makes things worse for everyone in the house."

However, once people get treated for their pain, things at home will most likely get easier.

"Sometimes, simply breaking the cycle of pain can improve quality of life," Gibbons says. "It can make the whole family much happier. By improving their pain, we get people back to their normal functioning, back to their lives."

Antidepressants can pull double duty, relieving a patient's depression and their pain, he says. Be sure to speak with your diabetes doctors first. While many antidepressants are beneficial, some may cause weight gain and worsen diabetes control.

Psychotherapy can also help, if depression has been a problem. Talking with a therapist will help identify problems or events in your life that have contributed to depression. This can help you solve problems and regain a sense of control over your life. You can start enjoying life more.

Here are more ways to deal with emotions related to your diabetes and nerve pain:

  • Learn how to relax. Try deep breathing and other relaxation techniques.
  • Set achievable goals. Don't try to overdo things on good days. Learn to pace yourself.
  • Don't put yourself down. Keep positive thoughts.
  • Make time for de-stressing. You need exercise and relaxation every day.
  • Join a chronic pain support group. Sharing your feelings often helps.
  • Don't drink alcohol. Pain often disrupts sleep. So does alcohol.
  • Quit smoking. Research shows that smokers are at higher risk of pain in general. Also, smoking worsens peripheral neuropathy.


Find a Support Group for Your Pain

The American Pain Society and National Pain Foundation both offer local support groups in many communities. "The shared experience can make dealing with pain easier," says Gibbons. "You can learn from other people's experiences -- what tricks have helped them with discomfort, like wearing socks to bed can help with pain. You can hear about medications other people have tried."

Stay Close to a Loved One in Pain

Chronic pain can make intimate relationships difficult. You may have fears about sexuality -- fear of rejection, fear of pain from sex. Diabetic neuropathy can also affect sexual function, so you may fear that you won't perform. But it's important that you stay close to your loved one. A healthy, intimate relationship will have a positive effect on all aspects of your life.

Make time for intimacy. You can have a long, satisfying relationship despite chronic pain. Honest communication is the first step in developing an intimate relationship. Make time to be alone together. Talk about how you feel. Talk about what is good, and about what you need. Take a bath together, talk a walk, or just hold each other in bed. If you continue having sexual problems, see a counselor or sex therapist.

Also, pursue other common interests. Hobbies and volunteer activities can help you feel closer when you do them together. Stay open to new activities that you can share.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on June 15, 2012

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