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A new spinal stimulator treatment stops diabetic nerve pain

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. 37 million Americans have diabetes, some of whom also suffer from nerve pain that can be fought with a new treatment.

BALTIMORE — November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. 37 million Americans have diabetes – a condition where your body doesn’t make insulin or doesn’t use it well. 50% to 70% of people with diabetes also struggle with a serious condition called diabetic neuropathy, which consists of nerve damage that causes numbness and pain in the legs and feet. Now, a new treatment uses stimulation to treat it.

Alice Ortiz calls herself a “city girl turned country.” But living on a 10-acre farm and keeping up with cows, goats, and chickens has been tough for the past six years due to diabetic neuropathy.

“It started with tingling and a little bit of burning and numbness," she explained.

But the pain got worse, making it difficult to be on her feet.

“Diabetic neuropathy took over my life. I mean, living with pain 24/7 is not, it's not easy,” she said.

Ortiz was treated with medication. She tried Gabapentin, Cymbalta, and Lyrica, but nothing worked.

“Unfortunately, until recently, there really was no next step,” Mercy Medical Center pain management specialist, William Raoofi, MD, said.

Now, a treatment that is newly approved for diabetic neuropathy is bringing relief.

“I describe it as like, a cardiac pacemaker, but for the nervous system," Dr. Raoofi said.

It’s called the Nevro HFX, a spinal cord stimulator that transmits mild electrical pulses to the spinal cord. The device is connected to a pulse generator that sends the electric current to the spine.

“It was like a light switch. The pain totally went away,” Ortiz said.

Now, she is able to get back to her life.  

A trial of the device shows 80 percent of patients have pain relief from the stimulation. Once the spinal cord stimulator is implanted in the lower back, patients recharge the battery wirelessly through the skin, by wearing a belt with a charger that refreshes the stimulator battery. 

Spinal cord stimulation has been approved for other conditions like back pain but has only been approved for a year for diabetic neuropathy.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Ann Sterling at ann.sterling@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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