Do you ever toss and turn at night with a weird, tingling feeling in your feet? Do you randomly feel pain and burning in them throughout the day? The cause could be small fiber neuropathy, and a diagnosis could lead to the discovery of more underlying illnesses.
Small fiber neuropathy happens when the fibers in our peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord) are damaged and send the wrong message to our brain. They essentially misfire, telling our brain that we feel pain or the wrong temperature when nothing is causing it. The symptoms usually start in the feet and move their way up the body as it progresses. It can also get excruciatingly painful as time goes on if it’s not treated.
It could also mean something else is up. A new study, published last month in the Neurology journal, studied cases of small fiber neuropathy for the last 20 years and compiled data on patterns. Researchers found that the condition has been diagnosed more and more recently, though it could be due to more awareness. But lead study author Christopher J. Klein, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says underlying conditions makes it much more likely.
“Another possibility is that increasing levels of overweight and obesity in our area could be a factor in the higher rates of small fiber neuropathy. Higher body mass index, or BMI, is a risk factor for diabetes and high triglycerides, which may also lead to neuropathy.”
Diabetes and small fiber neuropathy seem to have a close link. In fact, the study found that about 50 percent of participants who had the condition also had diabetes. Overall, those with the neuropathy had an average BMI far past the threshold for obesity. The participants were found to have an average BMI of 30.4, while the healthy range is considered to be between 18.5 to 24.9 and anything above 30 qualifies as obese.
That’s not where the troubles end. When it comes to heart disease, having small fiber neuropathy also spelled danger for about half of the group. The participants were 46 percent more likely to have a heart attack. “Based on these findings, people with small fiber neuropathy should be screened for heart problems and their blood glucose should be monitored for signs of diabetes,” Klein said.
While small fiber neuropathy is still a relatively unknown condition, it could lead to big problems. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be worth consulting with your doctor to get screened.