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Question:

My wife has diabetes and suffers terribly from neuropathy pain (nerves are dying). We recently bought a electronic pulse stimulator they claim works in a manner similar to acupuncture. The 5 inch gadget has a button on top to depress which in turn sends a mild electric shock through the bottom when placed on or next to the skin. They claim it relieves pain. I've heard of chiropractors using these.

Is this a scam? Is there any evidence to support their claim of relieving pain? There's a 30 day money back guarantee. How can I find out more about this?

Answer:

Diabetic neuropathy is certainly a miserable complication and at the moment it is of little consolation that the problem is attracting a lot of research attention. Perhaps the first thing to do is to aim for the best possible control especially if your wife has had her diabetes for less than ten years. You should discuss this with her endocrinologist because sometimes there is an initial worsening of the neuropathy with improved control.

The next step is to review where your wife is in relation to conventional therapy. The first drug usually tried is Dilantin, then imipramine is added and finally mexiletine; clonidine may also be useful especially if there is hypertension as well. A variety of free radical scavengers and anti-oxidants have been tried, mostly Vitamins C and E; but also alpha lipoic acid. The effects have not been striking.Nerve Growth Factor is another drug that is very promising; but is not yet approved by the FDA.

Whilst there have indeed been reports that acupuncture can be very helpful, the role of small intermittent electric currents is not documented. It is possible that your wife may gain some subjective benefit from the apparatus you describe; but I think it unlikely and if not, you should be sure to return it within the 30 days.

DO'B

[Editor's comment: There are devices called TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators) that are routinely used for a number of conditions. I personally have no experience with them in diabetic neuropathy, however.

Also, there are other medications besides those listed above, including an over-the-counter skin cream (which contains concentrated hot pepper juice!) called capsaisin, that occasionally help diabetic neuropathy. WWQ]

Original posting 14 Dec 96
Editor's comment added 19 Dec 96

  
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Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:08:52
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