THURSDAY, May 21, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Diabetes patients with elevated levels of triglyceride fats are at increased risk of developing a serious complication called neuropathy -- the loss or damage of nerves that results in numbness, tingling and pain in the hands, arms, legs and feet, researchers say.
A study by U.S. researchers indicates that doctors need to monitor diabetes patients' blood fat levels as well as their blood sugar levels. They noted a simple blood test for triglycerides can help doctors identify patients most at risk for neuropathy.
"In our study, elevated serum triglycerides were the most accurate at predicting nerve fiber loss, compared to all other measures," study co-author Kelli A. Sullivan, an assistant research professor in neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a university news release.
The study included 427 diabetes patients with neuropathy. Those with elevated levels of triglycerides were significantly more likely to experience worsening neuropathy over one year. Other factors, including blood glucose levels, weren't significant.
The findings appear online and in the July print issue of the journal Diabetes.
"These results set the stage for clinicians to be able to address lowering lipid counts with their diabetes patients with neuropathy as vigilantly as they pursue glucose control," study senior author Dr. Eva L. Feldman, a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in the news release.
"Aggressive treatment can be very beneficial to patients in terms of their neuropathy," Feldman said. Blood triglyceride levels can be reduced using the same measures used to lower cholesterol levels -- regular exercise and reducing consumption of harmful fats.
Of the 23 million people with diabetes in the United States, about 60 percent are affected by diabetic neuropathy, according to background information in the study.
The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging has more about diabetic neuropathy.