Almost 10% of Americans suffer at the hand of diabetes each and every year. The condition, whilst posing a risk itself when untreated, can increase your risk of developing a number of severe life-threatening diseases including:
- Heart diseases such as heart attack (myocardial infarction) or a stroke (which involves a clot stopping oxygenation of the brain). Diabetes increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis, where the blood vessels get clogged up with fatty substances. This can cause angina (a heavy pain in the chest) or if these deposits rupture, a heart attack or stroke.
- Eye disease is known as “diabetic neuropathy”. Damage to the blood vessels of the eye can eventually lead to serious eye complications like blindness. As such diabetics will often have a yearly eye check up to make sure there is no damage.
- Kidney disease (chronic kidney disease) is often caused by diabetes. Sometimes this will result in kidney failure – where patients have to have dialysis or a transplant
However, diabetes comes with other, less severe but no less debilitating complications like diabetic neuropathy. In diabetic neuropathy, high blood glucose levels damage blood vessels that supply the nerves of your body, eventually resulting in damage to the nerves. This can cause a number of symptoms including:
- Numbness in the hands/feet. The patient may also be unable to feel pain or detect temperature.
- Tingling or pins and needles
- Pains and cramps
- Weakness of muscles
- Ulcers in the feet
- Deformities of the feet
- Loss of balance
- Loss of reflexes
Treatment of Diabetic Neuropathy
Usually, your doctor will make sure your diabetes is well controlled. It’s incredibly important to follow dietary requirements your doctor gives and to make sure you take your medication at the correct times. However, the pain of diabetic neuropathy is unpleasant and often won’t go with well-controlled blood sugars. As such a number of medications are often given. These include:
- Antidepressants like amitriptyline. It seems surprising that an antidepressant would relieve pain in your legs, but there is good evidence to suggest it works well. It’s not surprising seeing as these drugs work on the nerves (which is where the pain is coming from!)
- Anti-seizure medications like gabapentin. These medications were initially designed for people with epilepsy, but work to reduce nerve activity and so work well in diabetes.
Spinal cord stimulation gets the thumbs up from researchers
For some patients these medications aren’t enough. The chronic pain can be debilitating and your doctor may recommend getting spinal cord stimulation from a specialist centre. In this technique, a implanted device gives a mild electric shock to the spinal cord interfering with the pain signals.
In a study published in Diabetes Care in Jan 2018 the authors found that spinal cord stimulation is
“SCS is successful in reducing chronic pain symptoms in the lower extremities of patients with PDPN up to 5 years after initiation of treatment. Furthermore, 80% of patients with PDPN still use their SCS device after 5 years.”
This is great news for those looking for alternative treatments for their peripheral neuropathy.