One in Ten People People Suffer from Peripheral Neuropathy, Experts Say


Leading global health experts recently gathered in Mumbai, India, to address the growing health concern of peripheral neuropathy (PN), which they said affects one in ten people, 80 percent of which remain undiagnosed. 

The event, held by Proctor & Gamble, was called the ‘Demystifying Neuropathy Forum’ and brought together over 6,000 healthcare professionals from across Asia, India, the Middle East, and Africa. The forum included deliberations on the latest clinical guidance for PN and research findings on screening and management of the condition.

Experts define PN as a chronic condition caused by damage to the peripheral nervous system. Symptoms of the condition can include numbness, tingling, prickling, and burning sensation in the hands and feet. According to researchers, PN has also been reported to impact patients' quality of life due to reduced physical abilities and poor sleep.

At the forum, Rainer Freynhagen, MD, head of the Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care Medicine and Pain Medicine at Benedictus Hospitals Tutzing and Feldafing in Germany, said that PN is not only ubiquitous but is also largely undiagnosed and insufficiently managed.

“Although identifying a patient with PN is not rocket science, currently published studies across different countries confirm that up to 80 percent of patients remain undiagnosed and untreated,” he said. “Many people may report their painful sensations only after they become unbearable, but for me, much more important is the fact that only less than a third of physicians are confident to recognize symptoms and signs of PN accordingly."

According to Satish Khadilkar, MD, head of the Department of Neurology at Bombay Hospital Institute of Medical Sciences in Mumbai, India, if PN is not diagnosed in its early stages, it commonly progresses into neuropathic pain, which can lead to a host of burdensome comorbidities.

“These include depression, sleep disturbances, and anxiety which also require treatment adding to the economic burden of the patient,” said Khadilkar. “Painful diabetic PN is significantly associated with disruptions in employment status and work productivity. Of working patients, 59 percent reported being less productive at work,” she added.

At the event, experts concurred that physicians need more education on screening and treatment strategies for PN. Anika Coetzee, MD, an endocrinologist at the University of Stellenbosch, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in Cape Town, South Africa, said primary care physicians should regularly screen every at-risk patient for PN. Coetzee suggested that practitioners familiarize themselves with the symptoms of PN so they know what to look for in patients. She added that if practitioners suspect a patient may have PN, there are several tests to confirm the diagnosis.

“As some patients might have difficulties in describing their symptoms properly, proactively probing for characteristics of PN such as numbness, pins and needles and tingling sensation, lancinating, stabbing or electric shock-like pain can be a good starting point,” Coetzee said. “Easy to perform sensory tests such as vibration perception testing, pinprick test, and monofilament test  take no longer than a few minutes and guide the diagnosis, while laboratory tests can help refine the diagnoses."