Results from a new study show that doctors may eventually turn to an enzyme to help diagnose diabetic neuropathy.

What is diabetic neuropathy?

A serious complication of diabetes, diabetic neuropathy is a form of nerve damage that results from ongoing levels of high blood sugar. It most often damages nerves in the legs and feet.

Doctors can diagnose diabetic neuropathy based on a physical exam in which they'll check muscle strength and tone; tendon reflexes; and sensitivity to touch, temperature, and vibration.

How the enzyme NSE can predict diabetic neuropathy

According to research published in the American Diabetes Association journal "Diabetes Care," people with diabetes show elevated levels of an enzyme known as neuron-specific enolase (NSE).

The enzyme is particularly high in people suffering from diabetic neuropathy, suggesting that it may serve as a potential a biomarker for peripheral neuropathy.

Research on NSE

Following injury, NSE is released into cerebrospinal fluid and blood. Today, it's used to help predict and detect lung cancer, neuroblastoma (a childhood cancer) and traumatic brain injury.

Using data from the American Diabetes Association, researchers classified different stages of diabetic neuropathy:

• Stage 0: No evidence of neuropathy
• Stage 1: Two or more asymptomatic abnormalities
• Stage 2: Two or more symptomatic abnormalities
• Stage 3: Disabling Neuropathy.

Next, they analyzed health records of 568 participants: 136 were healthy volunteers, 218 had diabetes without neuropathy and 214 were diabetics with neuropathy.

The diabetic patients with neuropathy showed the highest levels of NSE (10.8 mcg/L) compared to diabetics without neuropathy. Further, NSE levels increased with neuropathy stage. Based on these results, scientists hope to use NSE to predict a patient's risk for developing neuropathy in the future.

Preventing diabetic neuropathy

While a biomarker test for neuropathy is still years away, the best strategy is to prevent neuropathy before it starts. If you're diabetic, it's important to keep your blood sugar consistently controlled, take good care of your feet and make good life style choices concerning your health.

Talk to your doctor about additional ways you can avoid diabetic neuropathy.