Doctors say many suffering neuropathy are undiagnosed

Do you know what it feels like when your foot falls asleep?  That tingling or numbness is what it can feel like if you're dealing with neuropathy.

Could you have this nerve damage and not know it? It seems many people deal with that feeling all the time and don't even realize what their body 
is trying to tell them.

More than 20 million Americans have nerve damage in their extremities known as neuropathy, but experts suggest that number could be significantly higher.

A study led by the University of Michigan and Hurley Medical Center conducted in Flint found that nearly three-quarters of patients at a primary care clinic had nerve damage – and 75 percent of it was undiagnosed.

The neurologist who led the study says while they knew neuropathy was common, they found so much more than they expected.

More people have neuropathy than they thought.

"A lot of those people didn't realize that they had neuropathy," said Dr. Melissa Elafros, University of Michigan Health neurologist. "They didn't realize that the pain or the numbness and tingling they were having was from neuropathy, which you can imagine is a huge problem.

"If you don't understand why you're where your symptoms are coming from, then you don't know how to manage them. you don't know how to treat them, and that certainly affects your quality of life and what you can do."

Untreated neuropathy can lead to multiple problems including foot trauma and eventual amputation.

The doctor says many patients are suffering in silence and not bringing up the symptoms to their doctors.

"We've learned that when patients come into primary care doctors, they often have multiple concerns, and neuropathy symptoms are not at the top of their list," said Elafros. "As a neurologist, we need to come up with a better way to help screen for this problem. So that primary care doctors can detect neuropathy symptoms early and help address them before patients start to have complications."

Neuropathy is most commonly caused by diabetes.

The reason unmanaged Type 2 diabetes is so strongly linked to neuropathy is because when your blood sugar is too high for too long, it damages your peripheral nerves. That’s why people with type 2 diabetes can lose feeling in their feet and lower legs.