Link Between Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Diabetes?

Feeling a little wrist pain? It may be a sign of impending diabetes.

Researchers from the King's College in London have found that people with carpal tunnel syndrome may be more likely to develop diabetes than someone without this wrist pain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when nerves in a part of the wrist, called the carpal tunnel, become pinched because of the swelling of these nerves or of nearby tendons. It is most commonly caused by an injury to the wrist, the use of vibrating hand tools or rheumatoid arthritis, but it also has been linked to other causes, such as a cyst or tumor in the wrist. Ultimately, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause numbness or pain in the fingers, hand or arm.

It is common for patients with diabetes to have nerve damage in the arms and legs as a result of their disease, and carpal tunnel syndrome is also commonly seen in these patients. However, up to this point, there has been no evidence showing that carpal tunnel, or any type of nerve damage, may appear before the onset of diabetes.

To determine if this is a possibility, Dr. Martin Gulliford and colleagues looked at the medical records of over 2,600 patients with diabetes beginning well before they were diagnosed. All of these patients were considered to have had pre-diabetes, a condition that marks the beginning of diabetes-like problems. During this time, "individual subjects have normal glucose tolerance or varying degrees of hyperglycemia [high blood sugar]," write the study authors in Diabetes Care. In other words, these patients' bodies are just beginning to have problems processing sugar normally. Full-blown diabetes causes much more significant problems with blood sugar.

Comparing these patients with a sample of 5,300 patients who never developed diabetes, Gulliford found that those who had been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome at some point were over 35 percent more likely to later be diagnosed with diabetes.

"Hyperglycemia and associated abnormalities may contribute to…local peripheral nerve disorders before the diagnosis of diabetes," writes Gulliford.

The researchers state that the sample size may be too small to draw any large conclusions. However, these findings do suggest that even pre-diabetes can adversely affect the body years before diabetes is diagnosed.

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