The syndrome that quadruples the risk of diabetic neuropathy

Distal symmetric polyneuropathy (DSPN), commonly known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy, is nerve damage that causes pain and numbness in the feet and hands.

It can eventually lead to falls, infection and even amputation, and has a lifetime prevalence of more than 50 percent in people with diabetes.

A half a billion people globally have diabetes, which means at least 250 million people are suffering from DSPN.

And according to a recent study, many of them don’t even know, or know that they may have a syndrome that quadruples their risk for DSPN…

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Lack of diagnosis of neuropathy

“More than one-third of people with neuropathy experience sharp, prickling or shock-like pain, which increases their rates of depression and decreases quality of life,” says study author Dr. Melissa Elafros of the University of Michigan. “People with neuropathy also have an increased risk of earlier death, even when you take into account other conditions they have, so identifying and treating people with or at risk for neuropathy is essential.”

The study included 169 people from an outpatient internal medicine clinic serving mainly Medicaid patients in Flint, Michigan. The average age of the participants was 58, and 69 percent were Black. One-half of the participants had diabetes, and a total of 67 percent had metabolic syndrome.

The participants were tested for DSPN, and information about other health conditions was also collected.

According to the results:

  • A total of 73 percent of the participants had neuropathy — and 75 percent of them had not been previously diagnosed, so were unaware they had the condition.
  • Of those diagnosed with neuropathy, a whopping 74 percent had metabolic syndrome.
  • Almost 60 percent of those with neuropathy were experiencing pain.
  • Only 54 percent of those who did not have neuropathy had metabolic syndrome.

After adjusting for other factors that could affect neuropathy risk, the researchers found people with metabolic syndrome were more than four times more likely to have neuropathy than those who didn’t have the syndrome.

“The amount of people with neuropathy in this study, particularly undiagnosed neuropathy, was extraordinarily high with almost three-fourths of the study population,” Elafros says. “This highlights the urgent need for interventions that improve diagnosis and management of this condition, as well as the need for managing risk factors that can lead to this condition.”

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What to do about neuropathy

The treatment plan for peripheral neuropathy is usually to treat the condition that’s causing it, like diabetes. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medication if needed.

The results of this study also show the great impact metabolic syndrome has on neuropathy, and that managing these risk factors should be paramount.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as having excess belly fat plus two or more of the following risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Higher than normal triglycerides
  • High blood sugar
  • Low HDL cholesterol (the “good” type)

A Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil and fatty fish, has been shown to reverse the risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

And research indicates that fish oil may reduce neuropathic pain and can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce insulin resistance.

There are also some natural ways to manage the pain caused by peripheral neuropathy, such as magnesium supplements. Magnesium decreases nerve pain by calming the neurotransmitter NMDA.

Finally, if you’re experiencing pain from diabetic neuropathy, you may want to add a vitamin D supplement to your daily regimen. Studies show people with painful diabetic neuropathy tend to have lower vitamin D levels than those without neuropathy, or whose neuropathy is painless.

If possible, get regular exercise. It can help relieve pain by releasing endorphins and reducing inflammation.

Click here for natural pain relievers and what the science says about them.

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Neuropathy very common, underdiagnosed — ScienceDaily

Prevalence and Risk Factors of Distal Symmetric Polyneuropathy Among Predominantly Non-Hispanic Black, Low-Income Patients — Neurology

Pathogenesis of Distal Symmetrical Polyneuropathy in Diabetes — Life

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.