The Body Short-Circuited (Continued)
Testing for Neuropathy
In the old days, neuropathy was diagnosed via differential diagnosis. In other words, if your doc ruled out all the other causes of your ailment, voila! it must be that nasty neuropathy. Today, neurologists sometimes break out the MRI machine, take a nerve biopsy, or even do spinal taps!
Thankfully, more recently, the SudoScan — an instrument that uses a low electrical current to check the conductivity of sweat glands in the feet and hands as a way to detect early small nerve fiber neuropathy — has been approved by the FDA as a diagnostic tool to scientifically test for neuropathy in the hands and feet. I was tested on one at a recent conference. You whip off your shoes and socks and stand on a metal plate for three minutes while resting your hands on a tabletop sensor. It's fast, non-invasive, and painless. And so long as your socks match, and you don't have a profane tattoo on the top of your left foot, it's not even embarrassing. Better still, it can quantify the degree of neuropathy it discovers. Neuropathy detection and diagnosis is evolving from guesswork into a real science.
Can diabetic nerve damage be reversed? Here's where a grim story gets grimmer. Like a dark forest in a creepy fairy tale kind of grim. Neuropathy, for the most part, is a one-way trip. Very little can be done to fix the damage, once it's done. Most treatments for neuropathy go after the symptoms, not the root cause. If your feet hurt like a son of a biscuit because of short-circuiting nerve endings, a pain pill beats suffering 24-7-365. When it comes to neuropathic pain, the go-to meds are Neurontin, Cymbalta, and Lyrica. Also showing promise in reducing pain from neuropathy is over-the-counter alpha lipoic acid. But these are all Band-Aids, not cures.
A real fix would beat the hell out of a Band-Aid, because a Band-Aid can't shore up a failed erection, speed a slow pumping heart, repair a stomach that won't empty, or restore an anal sphincter that won't stay closed. About the only thing I'm aware of that shows any sign of repairing neuropathy damage is a cocktail of three unpronounceable compounds which are the key ingredients to the prescription supplement Metanx. But we're far from having a way to repair blood sugar-damaged nerves.
Better than Treatment: Prevention
If you already suffer from neuropathy, I'm soooooo sorry. We didn't get you the help you needed in time. We'll do the best we can for you today, and hopefully we'll have something better for you tomorrow. There's no question about it: Diabetes sucks and neuropathy can make it worse.
But for the rest of you, here's the deal, this darkest and widest-ranging of diabetes complications is completely preventable. Keep the blood sugar in check and you keep the neuropathy at bay. It's really that simple.
To paraphrase Smokey the Bear: Only you can prevent neuropathy.
Wil Dubois is the author of four multi-award-winning books about diabetes. He is a PWD type 1, and is the diabetes coordinator for a rural non-profit clinic. Visit his blog, LifeAfterDX.
NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.
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