Diabetes is a difficult disorder to control. Those who suffer from this have to employ many lifestyle changes to get a handle on the disease and bring stability back into their lives. As if that wasn’t enough, many diabetic patients suffer with neuropathy as a result of their diabetes. Neuropathy has no known cure. Treatments are designed to help relieve symptoms. They focus on slowing the progression of the disease, relieving pain, managing complications, and restoring function.
SLOWING DISEASE PROGRESSION
Keeping blood sugar within a narrow target range is a key factor. It will help delay the progress of neuropathy and may even improve symptoms you already experience. With intense glucose control, you can improve your neuropathy by as much as 60 percent. Controlling your glucose levels is the primary goal but there are also other things you can do to help slow the nerve damage.
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations for good foot care
- Keep your blood pressure under control
- Follow a healthy eating plan
- Get plenty of physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stop smoking
- Avoid alcohol or, if drinking is allowed, no more than one drink for women and two for men
There are several medications that doctors use to relieve nerve pain but most come with side effects that must be weighed against the benefits they offer. There are also other alternative treatments for pain that include acupuncture and capsaicin cream.
For medications, doctors use these:
- Anti-seizure medications – Although gabapentin, Pregabalin, and carbamazepine are used to treat seizure disorders, they are also used to treat nerve pain. Side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, and swelling.
- Antidepressants – Tricyclic antidepressant medications may help with neuropathy symptoms by interfering with chemical processes in your brain that cause you to feel pain. Side effects are dry mouth, sedation, dizziness, and sweating. For some people, taking antidepressant called SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) can help relieve pain with fewer side effects. The side effects for SNRIs include nausea, sleepiness, dizziness, decreased appetite and constipation.
- numbing cream patch – The patch contains the topical anesthetic numbing cream. You apply to the affected area where it hurts the most. Although it has no real side effects, some people do develop a rash.
- Opioids – Opioid analgesics may be used to relieve pain but they also come with a lot of side effects, some serious. They include headaches, constipation, drowsiness and addiction, which make long-term use of them undesirable. One of these opioids, tramadol, comes with warnings of seizure and suicide for those with histories of emotional disturbances or those prone to addiction.
MANAGING COMPLICATIONS AND RESTORING FUNCTION
People with neuropathy can experience complications because of the disorder. Here is a list of complications and possible treatments.
- Urinary Tract Problems – Antispasmodic medications, behavioral techniques like timed urination, and pessaries may be helpful in treating loss of bladder control. The most effective may be a combination of therapies.
- Digestive problems – Gastroparesis can usually be helped by eating smaller, more frequent meals, cutting back on fiber and fat, and eating soups and pureed foods. Diarrhea, nausea, and constipation may be helped with dietary changes and medications.
- Low blood pressure on standing – Properly named orthostatic hypotension, this condition can be treated using simple solutions like avoiding alcohol, drinking plenty of water, and standing up slowly. Your doctor may recommend an abdominal binder and compression stockings. There are also several medications available to treat this condition.
- Sexual dysfunction – There are several medications like Viagra that help some men with this problem but these drugs are not effective or safe for everyone. When medications don’t work, men will resort to vacuum devices and penile implants. For women, vaginal lubricants are best.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES AND HOME REMEDIES
Though you suffer from diabetes, there are some things you can do at home to help prevent your risk of developing neuropathy.
- Keep your blood pressure under control – Since people with diabetes tend to have higher blood pressure than those who do not have diabetes, it is important to keep this under control. High blood pressure is dangerous because it damages the blood vessels and reduces blood flow.
- Make healthy food choices – Try to make healthy choices when it comes to meals – lots of vegetables and fruits, lean meats and fish, and whole grains. Also watch the portion sizes so that you maintain a healthy weight.
- Be active every day – Regular activity is essential for good health. By staying active you control your blood sugar and blood pressure, you strengthen your heart muscle, and you help increase blood flow. If you have trouble with neuropathy, your doctor may suggest you participate in non-weight bearing activities like bicycling and swimming. Try to exercise 30 minutes a day, at least five days during the week.
- Stop smoking – If you smoke and have diabetes, you are twice as likely to die from stroke or heart attack as diabetics who do not smoke. Also, it improves your chances of developing circulation problems in your feet. Talk to your doctor to see ways to quit.
Diabetes has no cure as yet and diabetic neuropathy affects many diabetics. There are ways to control neuropathy but you have to commit to making some important lifestyle changes and follow your doctor’s recommendations. With a combination of treatments, your neuropathy can improve and you can have a better quality way of life.
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