Healthy Lifestyle Choices When You Have Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy can cause pain and discomfort in your hands and feet. But, it can also contribute to a wide range of health issues that may include dizziness, changes in vision, bladder issues, and/or erectile dysfunction, among others.
Fortunately, type 2 diabetes can be managed with lifestyle choices that may be able to help ease the pain you feel as a result of your condition.
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Medicare Benefits Solutions
Apr 23, 2022
What is Diabetic Neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy is a prime complication of diabetes that produces nerve damage throughout the body. According to the American Diabetes Association, “about half of all people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage,” which can have a major impact on quality of life.
Chronic pain can affect you physically and mentally. The severity of your diabetic neuropathy can be affected by the choices you make every day. Understanding the types of diabetic neuropathy can help you identify issues quickly and get the help you need to live an active, healthy life.
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Types of Diabetes Neuropathy
The following are the different types of diabetic neuropathy and associated body areas usually affected:
- Peripheral neuropathy: affects the feet and legs and is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy
- Autonomic neuropathy: affects blood vessels, sex organs, urinary region and digestive system, specifically the stomach
- Proximal neuropathy: affects buttocks, hips or thighs and leg weakness
- Focal neuropathy: affects leg, torso or head and muscle weakness or muscle pain
Symptoms of Diabetic Nerve Problems
Potential mobility issues associated with diabetic peripheral neuropathy are loss of coordination, imbalance and unsteady walking. You may need mobility aids, such as a cane, walker, or wheelchair. You might want to invest in a grabber tool to help you get out-of-reach items.
Examine your feet daily, even if you do not feel any discomfort. Look for open sores and cuts, corns, blisters, calluses, swelling, redness and toe disorders. Keep your feet clean and moisturized. You may need diabetic orthotics and insoles. Foot problems that lead to infection or injury require urgent attention.
Untreated diabetic neuropathy can advance to infection and potentially amputation. Seek treatment right away if you experience such symptoms as tingling, weakness, numbness or pain in your feet or hands. Other signs may include nausea, profuse or reduced perspiration, vision issues, accelerated heart rate and dizziness.
Can You Reverse Diabetic Neuropathy?
There is currently no cure, and some damage from diabetic neuropathy may be permanent. This is true particularly if you’ve gone a long time without treatment. Though the body is not designed to naturally repair damaged nerves, there are measures you can take to manage the condition and avoid further damage. This includes things like prescribed pain medication and insulin, healthy eating, physical activity and monitoring blood sugar.
How Does Diabetes Cause Nerve Pain?
Diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar, and over the long term, elevated sugar levels cause nerve damage. According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. People with diabetes over many years are more likely to experience nerve damage.
How Comorbidities Affect People With Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease that prevents glucose (sugar), your primary energy source, from feeding your cells. This happens if your body does not produce insulin or enough of it to direct the cells to take in the sugar. This deviation from the norm impacts your overall body chemistry.
When high levels of glucose sit in your blood, the cells throughout your body can change in structure and function. This is the main reason, according to John Hopkins Medicine, that uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a wide range of severe ailments including diabetic neuropathy.
Comorbidities (multiple chronic diseases) that often affect people with diabetes include high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, obesity and depression. Research published in Sage Journals shows “evidence that depression represents a substantial comorbidity of painful diabetic polyneuropathy with its severity depending on pain intensity.”
Healthy Lifestyle Choices
There are healthy lifestyle changes you can implement to help prevent, manage or slow down the progress of diabetic neuropathy. Let’s go over some of the tools you can use to reduce your diabetic neuropathy.
- Maintain your blood glucose levels in a healthy range. Use a daily glucose meter, and schedule a biannual hemoglobin test. Be diligent about taking the medications your doctor prescribes, and follow a healthy meal plan. Commit to an active lifestyle.
- Lose weight. Researchers have established a link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes, possibly related to body fat and hormones that control appetite and insulin. John Hopkins Medicine provides guidance on setting a target for weight loss if you have prediabetes or diabetes. If you are prediabetic or diabetic, then losing 5% to 10% of your body weight can improve your blood sugar readings. If you are prediabetic and capable of losing this weight, you can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by 58%.
- Stay physically fit. There are specific exercises particularly helpful for people with diabetes. In the National Library of Medicine, authors of “The Therapeutic Role of Yoga in Type 2 Diabetes,” concluded that yoga practice is “known to reduce blood glucose levels and to help in the management of comorbid disease conditions associated with Type 2 diabetes mellitus.” If you have limited mobility, chair yoga is a good alternative to standing poses. The value of exercise cannot be overstated, but if you have diabetes, discuss your exercise plan with your doctor to avoid unsafe activities relative to diabetes neuropathy.
- Alternative therapies. Therapeutic strategies to manage neuropathy in diabetic patients have drawn attention as an alternative or supplement to traditional approaches. A 2021 review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences analyzed acupuncture research that studied manual and electro-acupuncture. The studies reported no serious side effects, though there were reports of swelling, nausea and numbness. “All studies reported that acupuncture significantly relieved diabetic neuropathy.”
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What is the Best Option for Managing Neuropathy?
The best diabetic neuropathy treatment is maintaining blood glucose levels. This helps to slacken the progression of existing neuropathy and may alleviate symptoms. If you have not yet developed diabetic neuropathy, keeping your blood glucose levels in check reduces your risk.
Work with your physician to monitor any changes in your condition and discuss any pain or discomfort you’re feeling. Diabetic neuropathy may be able to improve with the help of lifestyle choices you make every day.