The Link Between Diabetes and Nerve Pain

The Link Between Diabetes and Nerve Pain

Your body’s peripheral nerve system contains all the nerves and nerve fibers not part of your brain and spinal cord, your central nervous system. 

Peripheral nerves send information from the brain to your extremities, such as telling a limb to move, and take back information from the extremities about physical sensations, such as temperature or pain.

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the peripheral nerves are damaged or destroyed from injury or disease, interfering with their normal function. 

For example, if the nerves don’t transmit signals, you may not be able to feel your feet when you walk, leading to falls. Or the nerves may not send necessary pain signals, so you don’t know you’ve been injured. 

The nerves may also send pain signals when there’s no cause for pain, leading to chronic distress.

At Coastal Pain Medicine, board-certified pain management specialist Dr. Patrick Brennan and our team know that one of the most common underlying conditions for neuropathy and nerve pain is diabetes. 

The high sugar levels characteristic of the disease can lead to damaged nerves and constant pain. If you’re at risk for diabetes, or if you have it already, here’s what you need to know about the link between diabetes and nerve problems.

Understanding diabetes

Diabetes is a condition whereby your body’s blood sugar levels are poorly controlled, leading to a host of medical problems, including heart and vascular disease and neuropathy. 

The problem may lie in the pancreas’s beta cells, which don’t produce enough of the hormone insulin to convert sugar to useful energy for the cells (Type 1), or it may be that the body’s cells become resistant to insulin’s effects (Type 2). 

Up to 95% of diabetics have the Type 2 form, which develops because of an unhealthy diet, being overweight or obese, and/or leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Understanding the diabetes-nerve pain link

The elevated blood sugar levels of diabetes can lead to nerve damage and symptoms that include numbness, loss of sensation, and pain. Almost 60% of diabetics have some degree of nerve damage.

Diabetic neuropathy often causes problems with the nerves in the lower limbs and feet. While you might experience constant foot pain, you may also experience loss of sensation at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.

The nerves can no longer provide sensory information to the brain such as a wound developing or a shoe chafing, meaning you can easily develop a lower leg ulcer, an open wound that can become infected. Infected ulcers are the leading cause of lower limb amputation in diabetics.

But the nerves may still spontaneously generate pain signals, even in the absence of painful stimuli, leaving you in unrelenting pain.

Treating diabetes-related nerve pain

If you have diabetes-related nerve pain, we tailor a therapy program to your individual needs. Our treatment goals are to reduce the frequency and severity of your pain and help your nerves fully heal. 

In addition to the treatments we provide, you may also need to take medications to treat your high sugar levels. Your primary care provider can help you with that.

Treatment may include:

Medications

Most over-the-counter pain relievers are ineffective at providing measurable relief. Some prescription anti-seizure medications work on brain signaling to decrease nerve pain, and some tricyclic antidepressants interfere with chemical processes in your brain that allow you to feel pain.

In addition, antidepressants including duloxetine and the extended-release venlafaxine can ease neuropathic pain in diabetics. All these medications come with side effects, though, so discuss the benefit-risk ratio with Dr. Brennan before starting.

Other therapies

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy uses the platelets from your own blood to help you heal and promote new cell growth. We obtain the blood from a routine draw in your arm, process it, then inject it into the site of the damaged nerves, where it helps regenerate tissue.

Stem cell therapy uses your body’s supply of undifferentiated cells (stem cells) and guides them into becoming the cells required to repair and regenerate diseased or damaged nerves.

Additional therapies can be non- or minimally invasive, such as topical analgesics, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS), acupuncture, and epidural steroid injections to reduce inflammation and relieve pressure on nerves.

Radiofrequency (RF) lesioning destroys the nerve cells sending pain signals, preventing the signals from traveling to your brain. While spinal cord stimulation, an invasive last resort option, uses an implantable device to alter your brain’s perception of pain.

If you have diabetes and are also dealing with peripheral nerve pain, it’s time to come into Coastal Pain Medicine in Pompano Beach, Florida, for a consultation with Dr. Brennan. Call our office at 954-284-0996, or schedule online with us today.

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