DIABETIC NERVE DAMAGE (neuropathy) affects approximately 60-70 percent of patients with diabetes. Once again, the longer the duration and severity of diabetes, the greater the risk of neuropathy.
There are many different types of diabetic nerve damage. Commonly, diabetic neuropathy affects the peripheral nerves, first in the feet, and then progressively in the hands and arms as well, in a characteristic stocking-and-glove distribution. Damage to different types of nerves will result in different symptoms, including
• tingling, • numbness, • burning, and • pain.
The incessant pain of severe diabetic neuropathy is debilitating, and the symptoms are commonly worse at night. Even powerful painkillers such as narcotic medications are often ineffective. Instead of pain, patients may sometimes experience complete numbness. Careful physical examination reveals decreased sensations of touch, vibration, and temperature, and a loss of reflexes in the affected parts of the body.
While a loss of sensation may seem innocuous, it is anything but. Pain protects us against damaging trauma. When we stub our toes or lie in the wrong position, pain lets us know that we should quickly adjust ourselves in order to prevent further tissue damage. If we are unable to feel pain, we may continue to experience repeated episodes of trauma. Over the years, the damage becomes progressive and sometimes deformative. A typical example is the foot. Significant nerve damage can lead to the complete destruction of the joint-a condition called Charcot foot-and may progress to the point where patients are unable to walk, and may even require amputation.
Dr. Jason Fung, The Diabetic Code p.28
Diabetic neuropathy has led directly to my willingness to undergo a radical lifestyle change, including intermittent fasting, and major changes to my overall dietary behavior. In particular, major pain to my hands and feet has increased exponentially in the last couple of years.
This type of pain is almost invisible to the people around a diabetic. They often wonder, I’m sure, what the hell is wrong with me, as I stumble from step to step, at times looking for all the world like a drunk after one too many.
Despite my best efforts to appear normal, it is sometimes impossible for me to avoid an outburst from a sudden onset of sharp pain in my hands or feet, without any advance warning that my chronic pain will suddenly become extreme, even if only for a few moments.
Dr. Fung mentions that it is worse at night while a diabetic sleeps or rests. Well, there are many times when neither is really possible, and my partner lays across from me worrying as I toss and turn in pain. And neuropathic pain is only one of the causes of pain in my body at night. Others are arthritis, bursitis, and severe muscle cramps.
Combine these with fibromyalgia and I guess that I have won the sweepstakes of pain, so far without winning the big prizes, premature death or paralysis. Even without the immediate threat of dying, chronic intense pain is exhausting, often leaving me so tired that days go by without being able to accomplish even the smallest things. Even I tend to feel like a lazy sonofabitch because my progress in so many things is fractional or even non-existent.
I wish I were faking it, of which I have been accused at times. If I could make it go away, I would indeed. The best thing my doctor ever told me about neuropathy is while I can still feel the pain, it is still at least possible that my nerve damage may partially recover as I reduce my diabetes and stop making it worse. Once the nerves are deadened to the point where my feet are simply numb, there would be no hope of ever recovering any of the la\ost sensitivity in my feet or hands.
This is one of the reasons why I am so determined to take any measure that has even a promise of helping me eliminate or radically reduce the effects of diabetes in the future.
It is Friday afternoon, and I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the past week. Wow! What a week it has been, and despite everything I’ve kept to my Intermittent Fast.
It has been a struggle, not to keep up with my fast, but to keep my blood glucose in tight control. I try to maintain my readings in a range between 4 and 7.8 mml, from my Free Libra meter. Twice in the past week my readings have been wayyyyy too high, up as high as 15 mml for a few hours after a meal, and even as high as 10mml all day long on my fasting days. Ouch! But I need to explain that in order to keep my levels in the right zone, it isn’t as simple as it seems.
I have to control not only my food intake, which I’m managing by eating low carb healthy meals on my eating days, without being obsessive about it, and fasting my three days a week, but also adjusting my insulin and other medications to balance off my fasting and feasting.
This week, for the first time, I haven’t been taking my jentadueto which up until I’ve been taking twice a day, once in the morning and once at dinner time, even though I’ve been skipping on my fasting days. This week I’ve stopped taking them altogether, largely as a result of concerns about chronic pain, which seems to have become much worse since I switched from pure metformin a couple of years ago. My pain this week has been terrible, and I’ve thrashing about trying to figure out what’s triggering it.
Metformin itself can cause chronic pain, either as a standalone drug or as a component in Jentadueto.
I probably should have increased my insulin even more than I did, both on my fasting days and my eating days. As an adjustment for not taking the metformin I increased by long acting insulin to 35 g from 30 on my fasting night, and 40 to 45 g on my eating days. On both days my blood glucose levels were high all day, above 8mml but even higher, up to 15mml.
Tonight I’ll increase my insulin long acting to 50 units, and see if that does the trick, along with controlling my carbs. I’ll get it right, sooner or later.
However, what made me say “Wow” to my week is that this is the first time in my life I’ve actually been a paid actor in a documentary tv series. I don’t know if my scene will end up on the cutting room floor, although I hope not, but in some way it doesn’t matter. I’m now officially an “actor” because someone has paid me to appear in a movie or tv show.
One of the things I’m determined to do is to try new experiences, and to expand my capacities. Having shot one show suggests that I can do more, if I want. And I think I do. It’s important for me to make some money, of course, since I don’t think anybody can live on their Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security checks. But I don’t need to make a lot of money, just enough to take the edge off, and be able to afford the luxuries of life, like food and housing.
The fact that my acting debut happened the same week as my excruciating pain, and all my adjusting of my meds is perfect. Fasting doesn’t interfere with life, it is simply just another part of life. Pain interferes with life, for sure, but I won’t allow it to stop me from doing something fun and interesting.
Yesterday I began a critical review of my current health situation, with a view to improve my future results by making some new decisions based on the current facts and trends.
Here is a recap of the situation as I see it now. I am taking the symptoms I listed yesterday and discussing each of them in the context of my current method of dealing with them, and/or discussing the cause of each of them as best I can, given that I’m not a doctor or scientist trained in this.
Frequent urination – especially at night, interrupting my sleep.
The whole issue of urination and bladder control is interconnected with so many of my other underlying issues so it’s probably a good place to start.
Problems with urination are a little bit like the canary in a mine that warns of trouble. One of my earliest indicators that I had a problem, (and it might be diabetes) was having a need to urinate frequently, both during the day and at night. This started in my thirties, almost thirty-five years ago.
Diagnoses of the problems with my urination were complicated by a discovery, in my thirties, that I suffer from a relatively mild form of spina bifida, which despite it not being debilitating does have some significant neurological effects on my lower body, including sexual response and bladder control. This wasn’t great news to hear when I was only in my thirties, but everything the doctor told me about the possible side effects of spinal bifida occulta has surfaced from time to time since then.
Like many other men with any problems with their genitals and urinary systems, including urination or sexual performance, I generally tried to ignore the problem as much as possible. After discussing the potential effects of the problem with my lower spinal column with the back specialist I tended to ascribe any problems to the back and nervous system, including periodic difficulties with both urination and sexual performance.
In the spring of 1985, when I was 32 years old, I also exacerbated the problem, by choosing to undergo a vasectomy, without understanding in advance that the operation could have unintended side effects. Unlike what I had expected, the operation resulted in swelling of my prostate and my testes and an infection in my urethra and bladder. For more than a year I suffered severe pain from both urination and sexual expression, and my soreness persisted for several years before fading away completely. A prescription was given to me to reduce the swelling of my prostate, but it took some time to take effect, and as it was significantly swollen, there were physical effects on both sexual function and urination.
As one might expect, given the pain, there were also emotional effects and a significant impact on my intimate life, in ways I would not have normally expected.
My reasons for having a vasectomy still seem as valid today, as they were at the time, however, part of the decision to go for it turned out to be less true than it is in most cases. My medical results included significant pain, reduced enjoyment of life, and a much higher level of anxiety about the whole subject than was probably warranted.
The argument for having a vasectomy is that it is generally considered a relatively benign surgical procedure, done in the doctor’s office as a day surgery. For a woman to have sterilization surgery is much more invasive, not to mention that it results in huge hormonal changes. My wife and I both thought a vasectomy would be less problematic, and we were probably right, despite how frustrating and painful it turned out to be.
It continues today, as so I suppose I’m used to it. However, continuing declines in muscles and nerves is also contributing to further problems, which require a certain fastidiousness to avoid embarrassment because of weakness in bladder control. It’s not promising for the future, because if it continues to decline I can see a future including adult diapers. It may be already as bad as it is going to get, at least that’s my current hope.
So my problems with sexual function and urination really started then, and it was only somewhat later that I realized that my need to urinate more frequently as I was getting old might have a relationship to diabetes.
Poor sleep – several things wake me up at night, variously including frequent urination, frequent cramps in my feet and calves, pain my shoulders and hips, dry mouth and nasal congestion, sleep apnea, hay fever, and difficulties breathing.
I’m not sure that I’m doing this analysis in the right order, but this is the order I listed my symptoms yesterday, so I will follow this list and get to the underlying stuff as it comes.
I have a lot of trouble sleeping through the night. I have a CPAP machine to help me deal with my sleep apnea, with which I have been having problems. The problems with the CPAP machine aren’t really with the machine itself, but with on again off again sinusitis that makes it almost impossible to sleep with the device forcing me to breath through my nose. So when I’m congested I don’t put it on. So it doesn’t do anything if I don’t use it.
So one of the new decisions I’m making as I do this analysis is to start using the damned CPAP every night possible. When I was using it, it did improve my blood sugars and I suppose it improved my sleep, although I didn’t feel much more rested then that I do now. In other words I’m still exhausted most days, regardless of the CPAP.
The problem with cramping in my legs and feet is another thing that wakes me up in the middle of the night fairly frequently, although not every night. When it first started up a few months ago, I asked a doctor and she advised me to use Magnesium and Calcium together to help. I started taking them every day, and my cramps in my calf muscles has been reduced to once or twice a month, instead of every night. However, this remedy has not improved the cramping in the arches of my feet, or the muscles in my toes.
Other body pain and neuropathic pain are also problematic in getting a decent night’s sleep. Arthritis and rotator cup problems wake me at various times in the night, and make it difficult to get back to sleep. Neuropathic pain which is merely irritating during daylight hours seems far more painful when I am at rest. Ergo, more interrupted sleep and more pain.
Chronic pain during waking hours – moderate to severe pain in my feet, neuropathic pain as well as mechanical distress, including pain caused by walking on supersensitive soles of my feet, as well as my toes.
I am taking Gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication which has shown to help with neuropathic pain. It may be providing me with some relief from the neuropathic pain, but the benefits are still uncertain to me. Would the neuropathic pain be worse if I were to wean off of Gabapentin, due to the numerou side effects cited in the literature?
Also… periodic moderate pain in my back and shoulders, and more serious pain in my lower back and hips when walking more that 1,000 to 2,000 steps.
Various types of chronic pain plague my waking moments, including arthritis in my hands, shoulders, hips and legs. Tendonitis has my hands bound up with pain. Inflation combines with ongoing pain.
Persistent breathing problems – mild to severe asthma on a continuing basis, almost always somewhat symptomatic but much worse when exercising or physically stressed. Sometimes exacerbated by emotional stress or conflict. Of all my symptoms my breathing problems are the most intrusive, making ordinary activities difficult or impossible. I am currently taking three separate inhalers to remediate the asthma and borderline COPD. All of them have side effects which make my sinus and throat problems worse, and while they help me breathe, they make my singing voice harsh.
Chronic physical exhaustion and fatigue – comes and goes during the day but is worse during periods of relative inactivity (sense of exhaustion) and during periods of exercise (weakness and muscle fatigue).
Addressing these symptoms is something I haven’t really been able to address, yet.
To close the blog for the day, I’ve decided to stop here and pick it again tomorrow or Friday. All of this thinking is making my head hurt, but I realize that I haven’t really given enough thought to the role of the many drugs in my system, and how their many potential side effects may be effecting me.
I have not been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, at least not yet. However, the development of chronic pain has paralleled my diabetes over the past twenty-five years. For most of these years I have taken metformin or other compounds including metformin, which may have been providing some mitigation of the numerous forms of pain I have battled with over the years.
So, in addition to the pain potentially caused by “dysfunction within the brain’s small blood vessels” caused by insulin resistance, as noted in the report on this study, I think researchers should also study the link between inflammatory diseases and diabetes, to determine any causality, either way.
Having had a lifetime of inflammatory issues, starting with chronic allergies to a multiplicity of substances, arthritis, tendonitis, asthma among other painful inflammatory symptoms have laid the groundwork for neuropathy and muscular inflammation. The pain in my feet and hands has nearly become disabling from a combination of pain from neuropathy, arthritis and tendonitis.
In the meantime, my medical practitioners have their hands full trying their best to assist me in dealing with the symptoms, as well as with the underlying issues related to diabetes. My muscle and skeletal pain issues are largely untreated while I struggle with diabetes, as an insulin dependant diabetic.
From this report, among other studies I’ve read, it is clear that there is little that can be done to reduce my experience of chronic pain that does not also improve my A1C levels on an ongoing basis.
Three things need to change in order for there to be a significant reduction in both – a substantial reduction in my current weight, exacerbated by using insulin, better A1C blood sugar management, which may be a result of changing the form and administration of insulin to a much more intense dose management more closely related to my blood sugar levels and meal times, and a more appropriate combination of reduced caloric intake with a physical exercise regime which focuses as much on increasing flexibility of my skeletal and muscular systems, as on weight loss or caloric output.
I think, from my own experience, that the cited report offers some valuable clues to fibromialgia, its causes and some potential treatments. But I also think that these relationships are more complicated that they appear on the surface, and may require much more than a magic bullet to help deal with the pain.