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Understanding Diabetic Nerve Pain
When most people think of diabetes they think only of blood sugar issues. However, diabetes can cause far more problems than that, and a very common, often disabling problem, is diabetes-related nerve pain. This pain, also referred to as diabetic neuropathy, can be quite severe for some patients and it is often accompanied by numbness and tingling. The nerve pain most often affects the legs, feet and hands. There are a number of common treatments for controlling diabetic nerve pain. Patients seem to benefit the most from a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.
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What Types of Lifestyle Changes?
First and foremost, all diabetics need to monitor their diet. Eating foods that are high in starches and sugar can have severe negative impacts on the patient's blood sugar levels and when their blood sugar levels are not well-controlled the nerve pain will most often be worse. It is important that all patients eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. They can have sugar and starches, but they should only be consuming very small amounts infrequently. Exercising is also very important because it can help to flush excess sugar out of the body, which in turn results in healthier and more stable blood sugar levels. Patients who are overweight might benefit from achieving a healthier weight. Those who smoke or drink should consider quitting because alcohol and tobacco can cause blood sugar increases and undue pressure or important organs.
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Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
This type of medication can be used to alleviate nerve pain and any associated inflammation. However, it should not be used for prolonged periods of time because of the risk of liver and kidney damage, high blood pressure, stomach bleeding and irritation and fluid retention. These problems seem to occur more often in patients taking this type of medication on a regular basis for weeks or months at a time. Diabetics already have an increased risk of kidney damage and need to be especially careful when taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for prolonged periods of time.
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Analgesics are a common treatment for controlling diabetic nerve pain. This type of medication is used to alleviate pain, but it will not reduce inflammation. The most commonly used analgesic for this type of pain is acetaminophen (commonly referred to as Tylenol). Those who regularly experience nerve pain associated with their diabetes may not find analgesics such as acetaminophen effective because it just isn't as strong as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Analgesics can also cause liver damage when used for prolonged periods of time or in large doses.
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Topical Pain Relievers
Topical pain relievers have become increasingly popular for treating this type of pain. They are considered much safer and can be used more often and for longer periods of time. Capsaicin is a popular choice and it is most commonly used as a cream. Patients can massage it into painful areas for near-immediate relief. It works by decreasing the nerve endings that play a role in transmitting pain signals. Patients using capsaicin should be careful not to use it on or near wounds because it can greatly slow down the amount of time it takes wounds to heal, and diabetics already tend to have problems with wound healing.
Lidocaine is another topical pain reliever that can be used. It works by numbing the area that it is applied to. Patients can use it as a gel or cream or they can obtain a prescription for a patch. Lidocaine can also be injected by a doctor to help block pain signals.
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Certain other prescription medications have shown to be beneficial in treating diabetic nerve pain. Patients can elect to use prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or in cases where the pain is severely disabling, the patient may benefit from narcotic pain medications. Other medications that may be beneficial include tricyclic antidepressants, SSRI's, SNRI's, antidepressants and antiseizure medications.
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WebMD. (2009). Medications to Treat Diabetic Nerve Pain. Retrieved on September 29, 2009 from Website: http://diabetes.webmd.com/features/medications-to-treat-diabetic-nerve-pain
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. (2011). Diabetic Neuropathies: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes. Retrieved on August 1, 2011 from National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/neuropathies/