Pain Is Often Overlooked

About half of all people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes report they are living with acute or chronic pain, according to a survey of more than 13,000 adults, ages 30 to 75, with the disease. About one-quarter of people with diabetes cope with problems like nerve damage, fatigue and depression. But diabetes management tends to focus on controlling glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure to prevent complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and amputation, so ongoing pain and other symptoms may sometimes be overlooked.

A study published online in August 2012, in the Journal of General Internal Medicine reported that adults over 60 were more likely to suffer from pain than younger patients, who complained more often of fatigue and depression. The pain is often from diabetic peripheral neuropathy, nerve damage characterized by burning, numbness or tingling in the hands, feet or lower legs.

Other complaints included sleep disturbances, disability that limits activities, shortness of breath, constipation and nausea.

These findings prompted the study authors to recommend that doctors consider adding palliative care - treatment used to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life without providing a cure - to standard diabetes management. Palliative care is probably best known for its use in treating people with cancer toward the end of life.

And even though diabetes symptoms worsen as people near the end of their lives, the researchers suggest that doctors offer palliative care at any time during the course of the disease, regardless of a person's life expectancy.

If you have diabetes, your top priority should be controlling your disease. But that doesn't mean other symptoms need to take a back seat in your overall care. If you're experiencing diabetes-related physical or mental problems, ask your doctor for help. If left untreated, your symptoms will likely worsen as your disease progresses.

Early intervention, such as drugs to relieve pain or counseling to treat depression, can help prevent needless suffering. If drug therapy doesn't relieve the pain of diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which is difficult to control, consider seeking help from a diabetes specialist.

Source: Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 21 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 31 Jul 2014