Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a lifelong condition that affects roughly 50% of people with diabetes. Neuropathy can cause a variety of symptoms, including numbness, burning, tingling, cramping, muscle weakness, and sensitivity to temperature and touch.
While everyone’s neuropathy experience is different, there is one thing that every case has in common: living with neuropathy can drastically affect your lifestyle.
How can you live a normal life with peripheral neuropathy — especially in its later stages? While living with peripheral neuropathy may impact your quality of life and alter how you get through your day, that doesn’t mean you can’t continue enjoying life.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to live with diabetic neuropathy or how to enjoy the same quality of life you did before being diagnosed, keep reading below.
The stages of neuropathy
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy results from limited blood flow and elevated blood sugar levels. Depending on how well you manage your diabetes, neuropathy becomes worse over time but may take years to develop fully. There are five different stages of peripheral neuropathy.
● Stage 1: Pain, tingling, and numbness
Some of the earliest symptoms associated with neuropathy are tingling and numbness. These symptoms will occur only occasionally and maybe be uncomfortable rather than painful. In many cases, stage one symptoms are so minor that patients don’t recognize them as neuropathy.
● Stage 2: Increasing symptoms
As your neuropathy develops, the symptoms from stage one will become more persistent and occur more often. Stage two represents the cusp of neuropathy treatment — at this point, with the right treatments and diabetes management, you may be able to avoid or postpone permanent nerve damage.
● Stage 3: Daily pain
By stage three, the nerve damage is so great that you likely feel neuropathy pain throughout the day. Your feet and legs may also become numb, which can lead to a variety of dangerous foot problems and prevent you from feeling or caring for injuries, wounds, infections, etc.
● Stage 4: Numbness
In stage four, your nerves have sustained so much damage that they can’t send signals to your brain — as a result, your feet may be constantly numb, and you might not be able to feel any pain. As your nerves continue to die, it will become more difficult to balance or move. At this stage, the nerve damage is usually permanent.
● Stage 5: Complete nerve death
In the final stage of neuropathy, your nerves are permanently damaged, which means you no longer have any feeling in your feet or lower legs. People in this stage are often required to use a wheelchair to combat balance issues and are also required to take especially good care of their feet, as even a small cut or wound could lead to infection or worse.
How to live with peripheral neuropathy: treatments to consider
While it’s possible to slow the progression of neuropathy or even reverse it during its early stages, what happens when neuropathy has developed to the point of no return? Lifestyle changes and good habits can help alleviate neuropathy pain, aid in nerve regeneration, and manage your diabetes, but when further treatment is needed, several options are available.
Common pain management practices include:
- Prescription medications. Your doctor may prescribe certain medications such as pain relievers, anti-seizure medications (to relieve nerve pain), topical creams, or antidepressants to treat neuropathy.
- Therapy. Acupuncture or massage therapy may help relieve neuropathic pain by increasing blood flow and stimulating nerves.
- Surgery. Your doctor may recommend decompressive surgery to help relieve pressure on your nerves.
- Other treatments. Other procedures such as electrical nerve stimulation, spinal cord stimulation, and dorsal root ganglion stimulation may help relieve neuropathy pain.
Daily habits to adopt when living with diabetic neuropathy
In addition to doctor-prescribed treatments and procedures, there are several lifestyle habits you can cultivate that will help you better manage your diabetes — which, in turn, will help you manage your neuropathy. These lifestyle changes include:
- Controlling your blood sugar levels
- Taking your medications
- Exercising daily
- Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet
- Examining and caring for your feet and legs daily
- Not smoking
- Controlling your stress levels
Diabetic neuropathy FAQs
How long can you live with neuropathy?
Neuropathy is an uncomfortable, painful, and life-changing condition. However, with the proper care and attention, diabetic neuropathy will not shorten your lifespan. Instead, it may increase your risk of developing dangerous infections, leading to amputation or even death if left untreated.
Can you live a normal life with peripheral neuropathy?
People in the early stages of neuropathy may not need to alter their daily habits or lifestyle. However, if diabetic neuropathy is allowed to progress, it may become difficult or impossible to do things like walk, drive, or exercise.
It can also be frustrating to manage neuropathy. The constant pain can be overwhelming and can take a toll on sleep, hobbies, relationships, and other facets of your life.
Can you recover from diabetic neuropathy?
Nerves regenerate naturally but only to a certain point. If neuropathy goes untreated for long enough, the nerves in your feet and lower legs will be permanently impacted. For this reason, it’s imperative to speak to your healthcare provider as soon as you experience neuropathy symptoms. The earlier it’s caught, the better the outcome will be.
Is neuropathy reversible?
Neuropathy may be reversible during its early stages if the root cause of the neuropathy is managed successfully. However, after a certain point, the nerves will become too damaged to regenerate on their own. At this stage, the neuropathy is permanent and irreversible.
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