Web Producer: Brad Maglinger
Because we all have different thresholds for pain, a condition known as neuropathy is often overlooked and undertreated. It's caused by damaged nerve endings and many diabetics have neuropathy. In the past, there have been few treatment options, but that's changing.
It would seem like a nightmare for most of us to live in constant, almost unbearable pain, but for Linda Pratt, it's a fact of life. Even simple tasks, like cleaning her house, pose serious health problems. "I can't stand for long periods of time and I can't walk without being able to support myself with something," Pratt says.
When Linda first felt the pain, she went to one doctor who told her it was probably just stress and let her go. That doesn't surprise Dr. Jerry Mendell who says, "We find that most patients are undertreated."
Dr. Mendell is helping to change that. He runs the Neuropathy Clinic at the Ohio State University Medical Center, one of only about ten such centers in the entire U.S. For the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Mendell has outlined several drugs that doctors could use to treat neuropathy patients, including some not so obvious choices.
Dr. Mendell says seizure medication is a good place to start when trying to manage pain and certain antidepressants can also help. He also says that even though many doctors shy away from narcotics, they can be used safely and should be considered. The bottom line is no single pill will take care of all the pain.
Mendell explains, "The important thing is if you get any kind of effect you shouldn't abandon that drug, you should add another drug with a different mechanism of action."
Mendell insists that doctors should never overmedicate patients, but should keep in mind that it may take a variety of medicines to treat pain that is as unique as the individual patients.
Dr. Mendell says even the best combination of drugs can only reduce the pain by 30 to 50 percent. He says doctors and patients need to have realistic expectations when they begin treatment.