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Can Pain Increase Blood Glucose Levels in Diabetics?

By Phyllis Zorn ; Updated July 27, 2017

Pain increases the blood glucose level, which in turn can lead to further pain for diabetics. Understanding how the cycle works and what you can do about it can help you reduce the amount of pain you experience, cut off short-term glucose spikes and live a healthier life despite having diabetes.

Pain and elevated glucose: A cycle that feeds on itself

Pain, because it is a stressor, triggers a series of metabolic responses that lead to increased glucose levels. High glucose levels in turn can provoke further pain by aggravating conditions caused by diabetes, such as diabetic neuropathy. Diabetics often have lowered tolerance for pain, which makes pain more difficult for them to deal with and feeds into the body’s metabolic reaction, creating a vicious cycle.

How it works

When stressed, the body responds with a rapid release of adrenaline (also known as epinephrine). This is often called the “fight or flight” response because it prompts the liver to release extra glucose so you have the energy to fight off or run away from the source of the stress. This can wreak havoc for a diabetic.

Pain and diabetes: Often hand in hand

Diabetics routinely experience pain, from using a lancet to draw a small amount of blood for a glucose check to dealing with the effects of painful complications of diabetes. With chronic pain, pain signals are amplified or misinterpreted by the central nervous system, making the pain seem much worse than acute pain. This enhanced pain perception can make it harder for a diabetic to maintain good control of their diabetes. A Finnish study published in the June 11, 2008 Oxford Journal of Rheumatology concluded there is “a significant association between diabetes and (chronic widespread pain) in the adult population.”

Avoiding the cycle: Good glucose control

If you have diabetes, the best thing to do to avoid the pain of chronic conditions associated with the disease is to follow your health-care providers’ advice, take your medications, get more exercise, follow the diet recommended for you, have your blood tests done and make it a habit to stay on top of your glucose levels. Maintaining tight control of your disease will delay or prevent development of painful complications.

Breaking the cycle: Pain relief

There are many ways to control pain. Relaxation exercises, meditation and prayer often help nerves calm down. So does engaging in relaxing activities. Applying heat or cold to the part that hurts; massage, rest and exercise are helpful for chronic pain. Mental outlook can affect severity of pain. Changing your thoughts from negative to positive can “turn down” the pain. Distraction, like playing a game or imaging a fun or relaxing location, is a good short-term approach to reducing pain. Electrical stimulation can help block pain signals from travelling up the nerves and stimulate production of endorphins--the body’s natural painkillers. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs reduce pain. Some prescriptions work by calming the nerve pathways. Narcotics dampen all the senses, including pain. Prescription antidepressants can help manage chronic pain. The herbal formulas bromelain, curcumin, echinacea, chamomile, ginger and arnica have anti-inflammatory effects. Laughter, sleep and sex can all help reduce pain, as well.

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