Q. What causes nerve damage? I have diabetes and have taken care of myself in every way I know. My doctor says this is the underlying cause of my numb feet, but I don’t know what else I can do to help.
A. Nerve damage, known as neuropathy, can be both mysterious and maddening. About one-third of those with the condition never discover what’s causing the pain. Your doctor is right. Diabetes is a major cause of neuropathy, which is diagnosed symptomatically and can be difficult to treat. Neuropathy typically causes pain in extremities. Even when underlying causes are identified and treated, symptoms may persist for months or become chronic. It is maddening because damaged nerves recover slowly, if they recover at all. According to current research, about one in 15 adults has experienced some form of neuropathy, with a wide variety of symptoms — from sharp, shooting pains that feel like jolts of electricity to burning sensations, tingling, numbness, muscle fatigue or a lack of muscle strength in the feet. A few medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for neuropathy, but the side effects are more uncomfortable than the condition itself. Generally, the course of treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms. If they are uncomfortable and annoying, start with nondrug treatments. If there is significant impairment, medications may be helpful. Talk to your physician. While neuropathy is challenging to manage, some natural treatments may help if your symptoms reach an intolerable level of discomfort or might enable you to use a lower dose of medicine for a shorter period of time.
Want to learn more about neuropathy? Read “Fighting Your Own Nerves With Peripheral Neuropathy” and try your hand at the quiz “Neuropathy and Pain.”