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The Global Burden of Polyneuropathy

The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy’s (FPN) Executive Director Lindsay Colbert was in attendance for a presentation by Melissa Elafros, MD, PhD, of the University of Michigan; Michelle Kvalsund, DO, MS, of the University of Zambia; and Brian Callahan MD, MS, of the University of Michigan at the Peripheral Nerve Society Annual Meeting in Miami. FPN shares a summary of their study, The Global Burden of Polyneuropathy – In Need of Accurate Assessment as it appeared in the JAMA Neurology.

The three authors presented their view that the medical and life expectancy burden of polyneuropathy is understudied, with significant implications for treatment and patient health. The statistics cited in their report, and the resulting conclusions, present an interesting and important snapshot of the prevalence of polyneuropathy and the need for more research funding to gain greater understanding of the condition and its impact on public health.

Prevalence of Polyneuropathy: The Statistics

  • 7% of adults have polyneuropathy symptoms.
  • Disorders of the peripheral nervous system, of which polyneuropathy is the most common, account for 10% of neurological visits each year.
  • 50% of patients with polyneuropathy experience pain.
  • In the U.S., nearly $11 billion is spent per year on the costs and complications of diabetic polyneuropathy.
  • This number is only expected to increase as the prevalence of diabetes, which accounts for 40% of polyneuropathy cases, is expected to increase 51% between now and 2045.

Polyneuropathy: The Impact

While polyneuropathy is not fatal, the implications can cause increased morbidity and reduction in life expectancy and/or overall health.

  • Pain suffered by polyneuropathy patients is often disabling.
  • Decreased sensation and weakness in the extremities predisposes patients to difficulties in walking and falls.
  • Patients with polyneuropathy are 4 times more likely to undergo amputations.
  • Pain can lead to poor sleep and decreased mobility, which can result in a worse quality of life and depression.
  • The calculation most often used to measure the impact of a nonfatal condition is Years Lived with a Disability (YLD). If diabetic neuropathy were used as a calculation in 2019, it is estimated that the condition would rank between the 8th and 9th leading cause of patients living with a disability.
  • Still, less than 1/3 of physicians recognize diabetic polyneuropathy, even when the patient is symptomatic.
  • This lack of understanding of the true burden of the condition, and the delay in diagnosis, leads to patients often suffering unnecessarily from symptoms and side effects.

What Can Help: The Need for Research and Education

The authors identify several factors that would increase the ability of clinicians to identify polyneuropathy and provide improved treatments for patients:

  • Increased training for general practitioners and specialists in order to better recognize polyneuropathy and increase the number of health care providers offering services to patients.
  • Education of public health workers and others on the burden of polyneuropathy in order to make resources, financial and otherwise, available to patients.
  • More research on treatments and cures for polyneuropathy. In comparing NIH funding in neurological conditions, peripheral neuropathy is estimated to receive $220 million in 2022, compared to $3.2 billion for Alzheimer’s disease and $212 million for epilepsy. In using the YLD matrix, the two latter conditions, according to the study, lead to fewer YLD than polyneuropathy, suggesting the need for more funding for the former condition.

FPN is committed to focusing its mission on the key elements identified by the authors as most imperative to improved patient care: education (for healthcare providers as well as patients) and research (both through direct grants and through advocacy for more NIH and federal funding). With our goals, and our mission, we hope to be able to reverse the trend of the increased incidences of polyneuropathy and improve the overall quality of patients’ lives.

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