New foot patch for early detection of diabetic neuropathy

 

A new foot patch could help make it easier for people with diabetes to check for early signs of nerve damage (neuropathy) in the comfort of their own home.

Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most common complications of uncontrolled diabetes and a major risk factor for amputation (loss of limb). Current checks for neuropathy, such as electromyography (nerve function test) have to be carried out at a clinic by a health professional

But a new, home-based, diagnostic test could make things much simpler. Designed specifically for the feet, the Neuropad works by detecting sweat - as well as causing a loss of sensation, damaged nerves also affect the body's sweat system, which often leads to unusually dry skin on the feet. 

After removing their socks and allowing their feet to adjust to room temperature, the patient applies the small stick-on patch to their foot and leaves it there for around 10 minutes. 

The adhesive patch contains the blue salt anhydrous cobalt II chloride, which reacts and changes to pink when exposed to water. If there is sweat on the skin, the pad will change colour from blue to pink, suggesting that all is well. If, however, there is no sweat, there will be minimal or no colour change, indicating problems with the nerves of the foot.

During trials, Neuropad was tested on around 3,000 people. Researchers at Oxford University and other centres analysed the test results and found the device to be 86% accurate. 

Stella Vig, a consultant vascular and general surgeon and chair of the London Diabetic Foot Network, called the device "an exciting innovation".

"In association with a yearly foot screen and referral to the podiatry services, this will reduce the risk of amputations. At present, up to 50 per cent of amputations may be preventable - no patient should ignore their feet."

Neuropad is already available in the UK through some diabetes specialists.

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