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Diabetic nerve pain is known as diabetic neuropathy. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, 60 to 70 percent of diabetics have neuropathy, a condition that develops over time. Diabetes causes damage to the nerves, resulting in pain and tingling. Diabetics with poor glucose control have the highest risk of developing diabetic nerve pain. A combination of factors leads to diabetic neuropathy. The painful condition can affect any organ in the body.
The effects of diabetic neuropathy can be disabling, and depend on the areas of the body affected. Numbness, tingling and muscle wasting from lack of mobility worsen over time. The effects may go unnoticed early in the development of nerve damage. Nerve pain associated with diabetes can become severe.
Diabetics who are diagnosed at a younger age are more likely to suffer nerve damage. Smoking and alcohol consumption are thought to contribute to diabetic nerve pain. Inflammation of the blood vessels, especially among diabetics with poorly controlled blood sugar levels, leads to worse nerve damage. When blood vessels are inflamed and diseased from the effects of diabetes, blood supply to the nerves diminishes, causing damage. There may be genetic factors that cause people with diabetes to develop diabetic nerve pain.
There are several types of nerve damage, or diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic nerve pain is caused from peripheral neuropathy, which affects the extremities. Another type is called proximal neuropathy that causes pain in the thighs, hips and buttocks. Focal neuropathy can affect a specific group of nerves, causing pain in any part of the body.
Cramping, sharp pain, burning, tingling and pain to touch are symptoms of peripheral neuropathy that causes diabetic nerve pain. The symptoms are often worse at night. Leg and arm weakness can occur. Loss of sensation is common, causing injuries to sometimes go unnoticed. Reflexes may be diminished. Peripheral neuropathy usually starts in the lower extremities, particularly the feet.
Antidepressants are often used to treat nerve pain associated with diabetes. Commonly prescribed seizure medication can ease neuropathy from diabetes, including gabapentin, carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and pregabalin. Narcotic pain medications may be required.
Diabetics should have an annual exam to screen for the signs of diabetic neuropathy. Regular visits to the podiatrist are especially important to prevent the progression of diabetic nerve pain, and check for injuries that may not heal from loss of sensation. Your doctor will examine your feet for sensation, warmth, circulation and movement. You should report pain that may be diabetic nerve pain to your physician.