Neuropathy Is Underdiagnosed

A new study has found that neuropathy is both very common and underdiagnosed. Neuropathy is nerve damage that causes pain, numbness, weakness or tingling in the feet and hands. It’s a serious problem that can lead to falls, infections and even amputations.

Neuropathy is a painful, disabling condition for many people who have it. It affects their sleep, their overall quality of life and often leads to depression,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Melissa Elafros, an assistant professor of neurology at the Univ. of Michigan Medical School. “Unfortunately, there is no disease-modifying treatment for neuropathy — meaning the best that we can do for many people is trying to decrease their pain and prevent falls or infections from injury to their feet.”

The problem is, according to the team’s research, fewer than 20 percent of people with neuropathy are diagnosed. That means they aren’t being told how to properly care for their feet and hands and how to avoid falls that are more dangerous for them than others. Half of the people in the study have blood sugar concerns. The study found that people with metabolic syndrome were more than four times more likely to have neuropathy.

The big takeaway message of this work is that neuropathy is likely more common than we think,” Dr. Elafros said. “By underdiagnosing neuropathy, we miss a valuable opportunity to counsel patients to improve their well-being.”

This study shows that more awareness of neuropathy is needed. Part of the problem, according to Dr. Maxwell Levy, an assistant professor of neurology and associate residency program director at Tulane Univ., is that “symptoms often start off quietly in the background — a little numbness or tingling in the feet, a little difficulty wiggling the toes, some trouble with balance or unexplained falls.”

There were limitations to the study. It used data from an outpatient clinic in Flint, Michigan and may not represent all of America. It also was a “snapshot in time,” meaning it didn’t follow people to see if they developed neuropathy later.

However, even with those limitations, the study has merit. And it can act as a wake-up call. If you have blood sugar concerns and have never thought about neuropathy, it’s vital to do so.

If you have blood sugar concerns or any of these early symptoms, you should discuss neuropathy with your doctor. There isn’t a blood test, but other tests can screen you for it. By getting diagnosed, you can take steps to protect yourself from serious injuries that could result in wounds that don’t heal or even amputation.  

Banner image: Funkcinės Terapijos Centras via Pexels

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