Learn how to manage your diabetic neuropathy in the colder winter months.
Toes tingling? Fingers burning? Feet feeling numb? If you have diabetes and you're experiencing these symptoms, you may have peripheral neuropathy, a type of diabetic neuropathy, also known as nerve damage. It's likely your symptoms came on gradually or began mildly. While peripheral neuropathy can be problematic all year round, the winter cold can exacerbate symptoms and complications.
Peripheral neuropathy is a common condition among people with diabetes as it can be caused by prolonged periods of high blood sugar levels. It's especially prevalent among those who have managed the disease for twenty-five years or more. According to the National Institutes of Health, between sixty to seventy percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy.
Cold weather causes the body to slow blood circulation to extremities in order to protect vital organs like the heart and brain. This reduced blood flow can increase neuropathy symptoms in the hands, feet, fingers, and toes.
Management and Prevention of Neuropathy Symptoms
Getting your blood sugar under control is the first step to managing neuropathy and preventing more serious symptoms. Complications of peripheral neuropathy can range from numb or painful extremities to infections and in severe cases, amputation. However, the good thing about peripheral neuropathy is that the symptoms can be managed, and there's a variety of ways to do so. Staying on top of your symptoms may help prevent further nerve damage.
Sometimes the best ways to manage symptoms are also the simplest. Keep neuropathy in check by taking a proactive role in your health.
- Test your blood regularly to keep your levels in check. Maintaining good blood sugar levels protects the nerves throughout your body.
- Keep dry and warm with layers and quality cold weather gear, especially gloves and socks, and always wear a hat.
- Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking can slow circulation and is especially harmful to people with diabetes, increasing the risk of serious complications such as neuropathies.
- Don't give up exercising in the cold weather. Exercise helps you maintain blood sugar levels and keep your weight down, and can also keep you warm while improving overall blood circulation.
- Stay on track with a healthy, balanced diet. Don't let the winter holidays be an excuse to overeat. Maintaining a healthy weight is important all year round.
Foot Health Tips
If you can't feel your feet because of nerve damage you may not notice a cut, blister, or sore, which can lead to infection. Avoid these serious complications by staying one step ahead.
- If you're struggling with cold feet that just won't warm up, try putting a hot water bottle at the foot of your bed or pop Bed Buddy Foot Warmers into the microwave and slip them on to keep your toes toasty. Always use caution when heating something up, as it may be hard to tell if things are too hot. Ask a partner or loved one to check the temperature of your items before putting them directly on your feet.
- Check your feet regularly and thoroughly for wounds, cuts, or infections.
- Clean your feet daily with warm water and mild soap and dry off with a soft towel.
- Keep your toenails trim and smooth. Sharp-edged nails can lead to cuts or scrapes.
Pain Medication Options
Managing your neuropathy symptoms can mean greatly improving your quality of life. It can also mean more restful nights, as pain and tingling can interfere with sleep. Symptom relief medications include:
- Over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
- Antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline, and desipramine, can sometimes be used even in the absence of depression. The dose used to treat neuropathy is lower than the dose used for depression.
- Some anti-seizure medications, such gabapentin and pregabalin.
- Topical treatments such as capsaicin cream and lidocaine patches.
Always check with your doctor or Rite Aid Pharmacist before taking any medication, even over the counter drugs.
By Joelle Klein
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Nerve Damage (Diabetic Neuropathies)
Wolters Kluwer, Patient Education: Diabetic Neuropathy (Beyond the Basics)