You might think that if you only have Type 2 diabetes that you are safe from neuropathy, but you would be wrong. I have Type 2 diabetes and I have developed neuropathy.
The question for me isn’t whether or not I will have pain today, but rather how much pain will I have? Don’t get me wrong, there are good days when I can easily remember what life was like before my neuropathy got too bad. A lot of the time though, the days are not so great and a lot of my energy goes toward fighting pain.
It begins as that little pins and needles feeling, you know, the one you get when your leg falls asleep. After that comes the burning. My skin can feel as cool as a cucumber but on the inside, my feet feel like they are on fire. At times, this goes along with feeling like you are being electrically shocked in your feet, or like you are walking on shards of glass. Yes, painkillers can help, but just a bit and even when you take all of your medicine, your feet can be sensitive to even the slightest of touches.
Even though my neuropathy began in my feet, it has spread to other places. I will have shooting pain in my hands and at times, even my face will tingle. If I don’t eat the right foods, stomach cramps plague me, and these foods seem to change by the day. This is due to the nerves in my stomach being damaged.
I can’t begin to tell you how many sleepless nights I have had. I lie in bed awake wondering what is going to happen next. What will my future be like? I never know how I will feel or how long the pain will last. Sometimes I even wonder what I have done in my past to deserve living in this hell.
It Isn’t Universal
Not everyone with diabetes will develop neuropathy. Only around 60 – 70% will get it. Neuropathy is directly caused by high levels of glucose in the blood, even though at this point, scientists don’t seem to know exactly how the sugar affects those nerves. Even though adults who have been diabetic for a while are the people at a higher risk for developing neuropathy, young people and even those who have recently been diagnosed can suffer from this complication. Some people can even experience the foot pain as much as a year before being diagnosed with diabetes.
That being said, not everyone with diabetes gets it. This is important to remember.
If you do develop this complication, you will come to find that there are two different kinds of neuropathy.
- Peripheral neuropathy affects the arms, hands, legs, and feet.
- Autonomic neuropathy affects the lungs, feet, eyes, urinary tract, sex organs, sweat glands, digestive system, blood vessels, and heart.
The type of neuropathy most people have is called peripheral neuropathy. Although, it is also true that some people suffer from both types. I have both. The thing about this is that most of the time, you aren’t really aware that there is an issue. It just kind of seems to creep up on you. When symptoms finally begin to bother you, you do want to see a doctor though. The burning, tingling sensitivity to the skin comes before numbness and when it gets that bad, you will have a sort of loss of perception – which means that you might not really know right where your feet are and this can be dangerous. My doctor says that if the problem had been caught early enough, the symptoms could have faded. If not, the symptoms get worse.
Those symptoms can literally affect your whole life. You might have trouble sleeping or even have trouble at work.
On the other hand, the pain might be great at motivating you to get things under control. If you lower your glucose levels consistently and enough, the symptoms might fade – only showing up when your sugar goes high again.
The first part of my neuropathy treatment was in lowering my glucose levels. The doctor said that pain management isn’t dealing with the problem, only the symptoms. Furthermore, in order to lower my risks of developing more complication from my diabetes, I had to maintain low blood pressure, keep my triglycerides and cholesterol in a healthy range, exercise with quite a bit of regularity and not smoke. The hardest part of that was not smoking, but I did it.
I have come to find that relief does come from making changes in my lifestyle. Having a healthy diet, paying close attention to my glucose levels and exercising frequently have all helped. My doctor says that it is critical to make changes as soon as possible when you are diagnosed with neuropathy. He told me about studies that have shown that the better the glucose levels are controlled, the better the neuropathy is. It will progress at a slower rate.
The Next Phase
The next part of dealing with neuropathy is dealing with the pain. There are quite a few different medications out there for it. Lyrica is one and Neurontin is another. There have also been studies showing that ALA can reduce the amount of pain in the nerves and improve their function too. That being said, my doctor says that every person responds in their own way to medications.
It might take a long time to find a drug, or a combination of them, that will work, but if you have patience, you will find something to take the edge off. Just don’t give up the search. Don’t get the feeling that it is hopeless and nothing can be done. Keep fighting.
By keeping my blood sugar under control and exercising, taking the meds and continuing to go on every day, my neuropathy has started to get better. I no longer dread waking up in the morning. Keep at it and you can get a handle on it too.