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Everything You Need to Know about Diabetic Neuropathy

Have you experienced pain or tingling in your hands, legs, or feet and didn’t know why? It could be diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN).

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes suffer from some form of neuropathy.

Over time, high blood glucose levels can cause nerve damage. If left untreated, this nerve damage can cause pain, infections, and even amputation if infections spread to the bones.

Causes of diabetic neuropathy

Researchers are not totally sure why the damage occurs, but it could be due to the close relationship between blood vessels and nerves.

Other causes for leg pain can be high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and nerve inflammation.

In some cases, pain in legs and feet may not be caused by peripheral neuropathy but by peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which happens due to poor circulation.

Diabetic neuropathy symptoms

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The symptoms of DPN include:

  • Pain
  • Cramping
  • Tingling
  • Shooting pain
  • Numbness
  • Burning sensation
  • Overly cold or overly hot feet
  • Very sensitive feet
  • Weakened muscles in legs and feet
  • Not noticing blisters or sores
  • Open sores, ulcers, or infections
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Changed bone structure in feet
  • Impaired reflexes
  • Loss of balance
  • Dropping items

In some people, diabetic neuropathy can also affect the digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels, and heart.

Treatment of diabetic neuropathy

DPN is often treated with over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Otherwise, a doctor may prescribe either Cymbalta or Lyrica. In some cases a doctor may prescribe opioid pain medications like tramadol and tapentadol, or topical creams or sprays.

Home remedies for nerve pain in feet, legs, and hands

There are ways you can treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy without medication. Here are some of the top means to alleviating leg, foot, and hand pain.

  • Keep blood glucose levels under control.
  • Take brisk walks, use a stationary bike, or practice other exercises that you enjoy.
  • Try acupuncture.
  • Do physical therapy.
  • Leg massage.
  • Use a bed cradle to protect legs from pain as you sleep.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Take vitamin D supplements.
  • Take vitamin B12 supplements.
  • Take acetyl-L-carnitine supplements.
  • Take alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) supplements.
  • Soak in a warm bath.

Always check with your doctor before starting supplements to make sure they don’t interfere with any medications you are taking.

Things to note when treating diabetic leg pain

Make sure to check your feet daily for any sores or blisters you might not have noticed. Keep your feet clean and dry, and invest in socks that don’t irritate your feet. Keep your toenails trimmed and clean. Wear comfortable, cushioned shoes that fit well. You might want to see a podiatrist to get extra advice on shoes and foot care. If you need orthopedic shoes, Medicare may cover at least one pair per year.

Follow the diabetes management plan that you and your doctor come up with. Be sure to check your blood glucose levels throughout the day so you can keep levels within a healthy range. Take any medications your healthcare team prescribes.

If you start to feel tingling in your hands and feet, see a doctor as soon as you can. Many people have diabetic neuropathy and don’t even know it, and leaving these symptoms unaddressed can lead to serious problems down the road.