If you have diabetes, you know the effect it can have on your health. You need to keep a constant eye on your blood sugar to make sure it doesn’t get too high or too low, which can lead to serious problems. But did you know that diabetes affects the nerves in your body, too?
At Southern Pain Specialists in Birmingham, Alabama, our team understands the ins and outs of diabetes, including how it affects your nerves. Dr. Kenneth Varley is our pain management specialist who helps you with whatever pain is affecting your life, including discomfort caused by neuropathy, a type of nerve damage caused by diabetes.
How does diabetes affect your body?
Diabetes is a chronic disorder that affects how your body uses glucose in your blood. When you eat food, it’s turned into glucose, or sugar, that’s distributed into your bloodstream. When this happens, the increased sugar lets your pancreas know to secrete insulin to balance out the sugar in your blood.
However, when you have diabetes, your pancreas either can’t release enough insulin into your system, or your body can’t properly use the insulin released. If your body doesn’t respond to insulin, the glucose in your blood builds up.
High levels of blood glucose leads to many different problems within your body. Some of these issues can be very serious, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Kidney damage
- Peripheral neuropathy
While diabetes affects your health and body in a lot of different ways, your nerves take one of the hardest hits. Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes, affecting mostly your feet and legs.
What is diabetic nerve pain?
Consistently high levels of sugar in your blood lead to nerve damage all throughout your body. With diabetes, peripheral neuropathy is the most common form of nerve damage, which causes a variety of symptoms in your legs and feet, and sometimes your hands, such as:
- Infections or ulcers on your feet
- Heightened sensitivity to touch
- A burning or tingling sensation
- Sharp or stabbing pain
- Numbness in your feet or legs
Peripheral neuropathy can lead to a significant amount of pain or discomfort — some of which can affect your quality of life. But the nerve damage from diabetes can affect more than your extremities. Your nerves may also suffer in your kidneys, heart, digestive system, blood vessels, and urinary system.
You want to avoid diabetic neuropathy if possible. However, if you already have the beginnings of neuropathy, Dr. Varley can help you with a variety of different treatments to address diabetic nerve pain.
Treatments that help
The treatment that you receive is tailored specifically to your symptoms and the severity of your neuropathy. Possible options may include:
- Activity modifications
- Nerve gliding exercises
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
- Diet changes, including vitamin supplements
- Spinal cord stimulation
- Sympathetic Nerve Blocks
Physical therapy and other medications may also help you manage your symptoms. While you can’t reverse the damage that’s already there, with careful monitoring and treatment, you can slow the progression of nerve damage in your body. We observed that lumbar and thoracic sympathetic nerve blocks significantly improved the circulations and reduced neuropathic pain in this patient with diabetic small fiber sensory neuropathy. The analgesic effects are reproducible upon repeated blocks and are long-lasting (sustained 2–4 months after each block).