What Does Diabetic Nerve Pain Feel Like? Understanding the Most Common Symptoms For 4 Main Types of Peripheral Neuropathy

If an individual has been diagnosed with diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, which is a type of nerve damage, can occur. Diabetic patients experience high blood sugar levels, which can damage the nerves throughout their bodies. Most often, diabetic neuropathy affects the nerves in the legs and feet.

The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy depend on the affected nerves and can range from experiencing numbness and pain in the legs and feet to issues with the urinary tract, digestive system, the heart, and blood vessels. 

Some diabetic patients experience mild symptoms of diabetic nerve pain. However, for most, the symptoms of diabetic nerve pain are extremely severe and painful.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from diabetes, they need to be aware of the symptoms of nerve pain so that they can proactively manage their condition:

The 4 Symptoms of Diabetic Nerve Pain

There are four main types of diabetic nerve pain that you should know about — Peripheral Neuropathy, Autonomic Neuropathy, Radiculoplexus Neuropathy, and Mononeuropathy. It is possible to have more than one type of diabetic nerve pain symptom. In most cases, the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy develop over time. 

You may not notice that you have developed a form of diabetic neuropathy until its symptoms become worse. By that point, you are looking at significant nerve damage.

For this reason, it is crucial for you to recognize the symptoms of each type of diabetic neuropathy, so that you can seek medical assistance before it aggravates.

7 main peripheral neuropathy symptoms infographic

Here are the four main types of diabetic nerve pain and their symptoms that you can develop if you have diabetes:

1. Peripheral Neuropathy

Out of the other three types of diabetic nerve pain, peripheral neuropathy is the most common one. Most diabetic patients are likely to develop this type of diabetic nerve pain than the other three. Peripheral neuropathy affects the legs and feet first and then the arms and hands. The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy tend to worsen at night. The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:

  • Experiencing as if you are wearing socks on your feet and gloves on your hands when you are not
  • Experiencing pain during activities that should not cause pain, such as in your feet when you put your weight on them or when you are under the blanket
  • Gradual onset of prickling or tingling or numbness in your hands or feet, which can spread to your arms and legs
  • Intense sharp cramps or pains
  • Lack of balance and coordination, resulting in falls
  • Loss of reflexes, particularly in the ankle
  • Muscle weakness
  • Severe foot issues, such as infections, ulcers, and joint and bone pain
  • Severe sensitivity to touch
  • Sharp, throbbing, jabbing, and burning sensation

2. Autonomic Neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls your bladder, heart, intestines, eyes, sex organs, and stomach. If you have diabetes and you develop autonomic neuropathy, you are likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • Bladder issues, including urinary retention, urinary tract infections, or incontinence
  • Changes in the manner your eyes adjust from light to dark
  • Difficulty swallowing food
  • Drastic drops in blood pressure after you have been standing or sitting that may result in you either fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Increased heart rate when resting
  • Increased or decreased sweating
  • Issues with controlling the body temperature
  • Reduced sexual response
  • Reduced speed of your stomach emptying its contents known as gastroparesis, which can cause nausea, bloating, vomiting, and a loss of appetite 
  • Unaware that your blood sugar levels are low, known as hypoglycemia unawareness
  • Uncontrolled diarrhea or constipation or both
  • Vaginal dryness in women

3. Radiculoplexus Neuropathy

Radiculoplexus neuropathy or diabetic amyotrophy affects the nerves in your buttocks, legs, hips, or thighs. People with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing radiculoplexus neuropathy than people with type 1 diabetes. 

Other names for radiculoplexus neuropathy include proximal neuropathy or femoral amyotrophy, but the most common name is diabetic amyotrophy. Most people experience an improvement in the symptoms over time, but the symptoms usually worsen before they can become better. Here is a list of symptoms a person who has developed radiculoplexus neuropathy may experience:

  • Experiencing weight loss
  • Severe pain in the thighs, hips, or buttocks experienced every day
  • Subsequent weakness and shirking of the thigh muscles
  • Swelling of the abdomen if the abdomen is affected
  • Unable to rise from a sitting position

4. Mononeuropathy

Mononeuropathy, also known as focal neuropathy, occurs when a certain nerve in the face or middle of the body, which is the torso, or leg becomes damaged. Older adults with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing mononeuropathy. 

People tend to develop mononeuropathy suddenly and can result in severe pain, but it does not cause any long-term issues. After a few weeks or months of treatment, the symptoms of mononeuropathy usually disappear. The symptoms you experience depend on which nerve was affected. The symptoms of mononeuropathy include:

  • Abdomen or chest 
  • The front of thighs
  • Lower back pain or pelvis
  • Shin or the foot
  • Mononeuropathy can also affect the face and eyes, resulting in unable to focus, double vision, aching behind one of the eyes, and paralysis on one side of the face called Bell’s Palsy.

When Should You Make an Appointment with Your Doctor?

You should schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following things:

  • You find a cut or core on your foot that has not healed or is infected.
  • You experience a burning, tingling, pain, or weakness in your feet or hands that makes doing everyday activities difficult and interferes with your sleep.
  • You experience a change in your sexual function, urination, or digestion.
  • You become dizzy.

What to Do If You Have Developed Diabetic Nerve Pain?

If you have developed diabetic nerve pain, you need to start caring for your hands and feet. Inspect your feet daily for sores, cuts, swelling, and other issues. It does not matter if the pain is present or not, you still need to check your feet. If the infection remains untreated, it can cause serious problems down the line, including amputation.

Also, make sure to wash your feet with warm water, drying them completely with a towel. Apply lotion to both your hands and feet in order to keep them moisturized. When applying lotion to your feet, avoiding getting it between your toes.

You should wear flexible and comfortable shoes to give your feet enough breathing space to move around. If you have bought new shoes, you need to break into them slowly, so they do not hurt your feet. You can ask your doctor about buying customized shoes if regular shoes do not fit you properly. You should always cover your feet with slippers, thick socks, and shoes to cushion them and prevent an injury.

Precautionary Measures

If you have not developed diabetic nerve pain, you need to take preventive measures to ensure that you never do by ensuring your blood sugar level is under control.

Talk to your doctor about the type of diet, exercise, and treatments you should receive if you already have developed diabetic nerve pain. There is no cure for diabetic nerve pain, so all you can do is take steps to reduce the pain and keep it from getting worse. Also consider taking supplements designed for neuropathy symptoms to ensure your nerves get the proper nutrients and vitamins for optimal functioning.