Do you feel any numbness in your hands or feet? Any tingling, burning or pain?
If so, these are common symptoms of neuropathy, a growing problem in this country.
The condition, which affects the peripheral nerves, typically starts in the feet. Left untreated, it can cause trouble walking and make you more susceptible to falling. In severe cases, people lose the ability to walk.
What causes neuropathy?
Diabetes, of course, is known to cause extensive damage to blood vessels and other parts of the body when left untreated over time. The second leading cause of neuropathy is drinking alcohol.
"It doesn't even have to be alcoholism," said Dr. Burke. "Daily use of alcohol in mild-moderate portions can be enough to cause the problem."
Patients who've had bariatric surgery for weight loss are also more vulnerable. Because the surgery limits the amount they can eat, they may become deficient in certain nutrients.
Inflammation associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome is another possible cause. (Guillain-Barre is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves.)
How is neuropathy treated?
"The treatment depends on the cause," noted Dr. Burke. "If it's diabetes, then we treat the diabetes. If it's alcohol, we recommend patients quit. If it's nutritional deficiencies or inflammation, we address that."
People with chronic pain may also be prescribed pain medications.
Unfortunately, most people who are diagnosed with neuropathy will have it for the rest of their life.
"By the time people have symptoms, the damage to the nerves is often excessive," Dr. Burke said.
It's a good argument for prevention, certainly. But at any age, just knowing about this condition can be a wake-up call.
If you or someone you love has these symptoms, seeking help may prevent a lot of regret—and disability—in the years ahead.
Your feet age along with the rest of you. Learn what to watch for.