Talk beyond pain: Understanding diabetic nerve pain

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Results from a new survey of more than 600 physicians who treat diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain, or diabetic nerve pain, reveal that nearly all (97 percent) believe that the condition is often misdiagnosed.

Overall, findings from the survey, sponsored by the National Pain Foundation (NPF) and Eli Lilly and Company, suggest that more effective communication is needed to ensure proper care for diabetic nerve pain.

Additional survey findings show that:

  • Most physicians surveyed (66 percent) reported that one of the most commonly cited reasons leading to misdiagnosis is lack of information from their patients
  • Nearly two-thirds of physicians (62 percent) believe that tools or guidelines that diabetes patients can use to track diabetic nerve pain would be useful in better diagnosing diabetic nerve pain
  • The vast majority of physicians (81 percent) want to find new ways to discuss diabetic nerve pain with their patients

To achieve these goals, the NPF and Lilly are launching a new educational program called Talk Beyond Pain: Understanding Diabetic Nerve Pain. This pro- gram will provide patients who might be suffering from diabetic nerve pain with the information and vocabulary they need to better communicate with their physicians what they are feeling and experiencing. The materials are avail- able for download at

Diabetic nerve pain includes painful symptoms, such as burning, stabbing or shooting pain in the feet and legs or hands and arms. The symptoms can make everyday activities like driving and walking challenging, and can cause feelings of frustration, sadness or fatigue. (ii, iii)

"Unfortunately, there is no single test that can definitively diagnose diabetic nerve pain. Without a comprehensive understanding of what patients are feeling and experiencing, including the painful physical symptoms and their impact on daily living, it can be easy to misdiagnose diabetic nerve pain and prescribe inappropriate or inadequate treatment," explained Dr. Albert Ray, chairman of the board of the National Pain Foundation and medical director of Pain Medicine Solutions in Miami. "The survey findings suggest that these conversations may not be taking place or not occurring frequently enough, and more guidance for achieving better care can make a huge impact on quality of life."

Talk Beyond Pain: Understanding Diabetic Nerve Pain offers education and tools to help patients who believe they may have diabetic nerve pain initiate conversations with their doctors. The following materials are available:

  • Talk Beyond Pain: Understanding Diabetic Nerve Pain Educational Guide: This guide details the symptoms of diabetic nerve pain, how they may impact everyday life, as well as ways to manage the nerve pain. It also includes worksheets and checklists to help people organize their thinking prior to a doctor visit so they can have productive conversations and provide healthcare providers with the information necessary for appropriate diagnosis.
  • Talk Beyond Pain: Understanding Diabetic Nerve Pain Personal Diary: This diary helps patients in pain track their symptoms over several weeks, as well as their overall well-being in connection with their pain. There is also a section in the diary dedicated to tracking progress to ensure people are getting relief from their symptoms with their current treatment plan.

"We hope that Talk Beyond Pain: Understanding Diabetic Nerve Pain will help to bridge the communication gap between people living with diabetic nerve pain and their physicians, so they can get help and enjoy life again," said Dr. Ray.

The information provided by this program was developed with guidance from the NPF and a group of leading medical experts across different specialties who have come together to form the Partnership for Helping People in Pain. Their goal is to help open the lines of communication between patients and physicians to aid in the diagnosis and treatment process. This partnership began in July 2006 as an initiative between the NPF and Lilly, with discussion surrounding diabetic nerve pain, the most common form of neuropathic pain. Eli Lilly and Company provided both content and financial support to the NPF for this educational campaign.

About Diabetic Nerve Pain

Approximately 2.5 million people are affected by diabetic nerve pain, however many people at risk are not aware the condition exists. (iv) While the exact cause of diabetic nerve pain is unknown, many factors may be responsible, including high blood sugar, increased weight, smoking, high blood pressure and age older than 40. (v) Though risk increases with age, people with diabetes can develop nerve damage at any time. (vi)

Currently there are no medications that can reverse nerve damage; however, there are medications that can treat the pain associated with diabetic nerve pain. Diabetic nerve pain is not a normal part of aging, and it can affect many facets of a person's life. With the right treatment, diabetic nerve pain can be relieved and kept under control. It's important for people who think they may have diabetic nerve pain to speak with their healthcare provider to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.

About the Survey

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive(R) on behalf of the NPF and Lilly between September 18 and 22, 2006, among 605 physicians of whom 252 are primary care physicians, 253 neurologists and 100 endocrinologists who see at least one adult diabetes patient in a typical week. Figures for gender, years in practice and region were weighted where necessary to bring the figures into line with their actual proportions in the population.

With a pure probability sample of 605, it could be said with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 6 percentage points. Sampling error for data from sub-samples would be higher and would vary. However, that does not take other sources of error into account. The online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no theoretical sampling error can be calculated.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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