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Updated 6/20/02

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Image of a foot

New technology eases foot pain in diabetics
by Natalie Gutierrez

Not many people wanted to walk in Janie Arguello’s shoes. Each time she took a step, it felt like she was leaping onto a bed full of razor blades.

Like many diabetics, Arguello suffered severe foot pain. Hers began when the nerves around her ankles became entrapped. The pain and swelling were so bad, Arguello had to take codeine daily. She couldn’t walk, much less hold down a steady job.

Photo of the Peripheral Specified Sensory Device

Arguello is just one of the estimated 15.7 million people with diabetes in the United States. About 60 percent to 70 percent of people with the disease have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage, which includes impaired sensation or pain in the feet and/or hands, slowed digestion, carpal tunnel syndrome and other nerve problems.

But a new procedure at the Health Science Center is helping local diabetic patients regain lost feeling in their lower limbs. Suhad Hadi, D.P.M., director of resident education in the department of orthopaedics at the UTHSC, oversees testing performed with the new Peripheral Specified Sensory Device (PSSD). The equipment arrived at the Health Science Center in November 2000.

"We use the PSSD to assess patients with painful diabetic neuropathy and early neuropathy (neuropathy is any disorder affecting the nervous system)," Dr. Hadi said. Candidates are selected for surgical neurolysis, or the release of specific peripheral nerves in an attempt to decrease or eliminate their neuropathic symptoms."

Dr. Hadi said the PSSD is capable of detecting nerve damage earlier than a nerve conduction study, which can be a more painful method of testing patients.

"Unlike the nerve conduction study, the PSSD can detect degenerating nerve tissue before it is completely dead," Dr. Hadi said. "As a result, we can identify and repair the tissue before it’s too late."

Last spring, Dr. Hadi used the PSSD to assess Arguello’s condition. Arguello considers herself lucky to be chosen for the procedure. "Prior to the surgery, I couldn’t feel my feet, but within one month of the surgery, I could wiggle my toes," Arguello said. After five months, the sensation in her feet was almost back to normal. "Now I know where my feet are when I’m walking because I can feel them," she said.

Dr. Hadi said the sensation in Arguello’s feet has increased by 95 percent. Today Arguello works as a full-time medical claims specialist at USAA and says she has no problem getting around at work.

Between 10 and 12 diabetic patients have benefited from the PSSD and surgical neurolysis at the Health Science Center.

"We look forward to using the device more, especially since our patient referrals have grown significantly," Dr. Hadi said.

With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicting 300 million people to be diagnosed with diabetes by the year 2025, more people are sure to benefit from the treatment.

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