It’s all about nerves

On the occasion of World Diabetes Day we speak to Dr Mohammed Saadah, consultant neurologist and president of the Emirates Neurology Society

By Nirmala Natarajan (Contributor)

Published: Wed 14 Nov 2007, 11:28 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:34 AM

What is Diabetic Polyneuropathy? Does it affect only Diabetics?

Diabetic nerve pain begins in the nervous system from nerve damage caused when blood sugar levels are too high. Damaged nerves become over-excited and too many signals are fired throughout the body, resulting in pain. Caused by lesions or dysfunctions in the nervous system, numbness, tingling, burning or shock-like sensations result, it can also cause sleeplessness.

Polyneuropathy can occur by itself or it could be a symptom of other diseases. However, in this era, Type 2 Diabetes is one of its major causes.

How prevalent is Type 2 Diabetes in the UAE and the region in general? Is it genetic?

Actually the prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes is very high in the UAE where 25 per cent of the population is diabetic. It is not necessarily genetic, although that is one of the causes. However, Type 2 Diabetes can also be caused due to a faulty lifestyle such as a lack of right diet and exercise.

And what percentage of Type 2 Diabetics could be affected by Diabetic polyneuropathy?

Over 50 per cent of diabetics could be afflicted by painful Diabetic polyneuropathy. This could happen around 10–15 years after the onset of Diabetes although this is not always the rule. It could happen earlier.

Is there any treatment for this condition?

The pain can be controlled through the right medication. A new drug, Lyrica, has been introduced in the market by Pfizer. This helps with all kinds of pain resulting from nerve problems as it calms down the nerves and there are minimal side effects.

What are the other problems that can arise out of a Type 2 Diabetes condition? How can one prevent these?

The kidneys, skin, retina and nerves can all be affected. However, these can happen silently. Polyneuropathy is very painful and so is considered one of the major afflictions of Type 2 Diabetes.

Yes, we can prevent Diabetes or reduce the afflictions it causes. Lifestyle changes with regular exercise and healthy food can make a difference. It is important to lead a balanced and healthy lifestyle. I believe that half an hour of exercise is better than one tablet!

The onset of polyneuropathy can be delayed by controlling the blood sugar. Basically, this pain comes around 10 to 15 years after the onset of diabetes. However, in some people, this can happen even when the diabetes is fully controlled. Their glucose molecules may not be well metabolised in the body and are very harmful to the nerves.

How can a diabetic avoid polyneuropathy?

Controlling Diabetes as early as possible, controlling obesity and leading an active life will help in preventing this condition. However, it does not totally eliminate the chances of the onset of polyneuropathy.

Doctor, do you have any word of advice to Diabetics and people afflicted by Diabetic polyneuropathy?

I would like to advice all diabetics to have regular check ups with an ophthalmologist and their GP to ensure that any problem is found in the early stages. They need to avoid carbohydrates and fats as much as possible and also check with their physicians before taking any other medication. It is possible that through a healthy lifestyle and keeping a tab on their condition they can both avoid or control the complications that can arise.

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