If You Feel This in Your Hands, Your Diabetes Risk Soars

This surprising symptom is "a predictor of diabetes," says orthopedic group.

Right now, over 11 percent of the U.S. population, or 37 million Americans, are living with diabetes. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 8.5 million of these individuals are currently undiagnosed and therefore untreated. To make matters worse, patients are often surprised to learn just how destructive and far reaching diabetes symptoms can be—especially when their diagnosis has been delayed.

Now, experts are calling attention to one little-known and seemingly unrelated symptom, which is far more common among diabetics than the general population. They say that if you experience this symptom with no known cause, you should bring it to your doctor's attention. It may merit a diabetes screening if other symptoms are present. Read on to find out which diabetes symptom may unexpectedly affect your hands, and why it's often dismissed among diabetics.

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If you notice carpal tunnel syndrome in your hands, it could be linked to diabetes.

Aged businesswoman sit at workplace desk touch hand feeling wrist pain caused by pc and mouse usage long time wrong arm posture, carpal tunnel syndrome, laptop overwork, joint muscular strain concept

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a hand and arm condition that causes progressive nerve pain originating in the wrist. It is known to affect the median nerve, "one of five nerve branches of the brachial plexus," according to the Cleveland Clinic. "This complex network of nerves helps you move your shoulders, arms and hands. It also sends sensory information," their experts note.

Though researchers have begun exploring the relationship between carpal tunnel syndrome and diabetes, "the root cause of the condition is unknown," reports Healthline. "But with diabetes, researchers believe that high blood glucose levels make the tendons of the carpal tunnel become glycosylated. That means the tendons become inflamed, and excess sugars form a 'biological superglue' that makes the tendons less able to slide freely—similar to what happens in frozen shoulder," their experts explain.

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It's much more common in those with diabetes than in those without.

Man wearing a brace with wrist pain

Though having carpal tunnel syndrome does not cause diabetes, your odds of later being diagnosed with the condition greatly increases if you have CTS. "Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common peripheral neuropathy with a reported prevalence of up to 5.8 percent in the general population," says a 2012 study published in The Bone and Joint Journal. In stark comparison, "the total lifetime risk of CTS in a diabetic patient is around 85 percent," the researchers add.

Experts from South Island Orthopedics say that "CTS, in fact, can be a predictor of diabetes," adding that "research is showing that individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome who do not have diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes later in life."

Carpal tunnel syndrome is far from the only musculoskeletal symptom associated with diabetes: Those with a glucose imbalance are also more likely to develop trigger finger, Dupuytren's disease, joint stiffness, and peripheral nerve damage, says the Bone and Join Journal study.

Look out for these symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

old woman rubbing her wrist

If the median nerve becomes pinched due to carpal tunnel syndrome, you may experience pain, poor circulation, and loss of grip strength. Some people with carpal tunnel syndrome also experience a "pins and needles" sensation in the hands or fingers, a burning sensation in the thumb, index, or middle fingers, and pain or numbness that becomes worse at night.

The Mayo Clinic points out that while there is no proven strategy to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, you may be able to relieve its symptoms by minimizing stress on the hands and wrists (for instance, by loosening your grip while holding objects, or by taking frequent breaks if your job requires fine motor use of your hands). If your symptoms do not improve with these interventions, your doctor may recommend wrist splinting, oral medication, corticosteroid injections, or surgery. 

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It may have one of these other underlying causes.

Man talking to doctor about being screened for diabetes

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there may be several other reasons that you have developed carpal tunnel syndrome besides type 2 diabetes. Most often, the nerve becomes pinched as the result of "frequent, repetitive, small movements with the hands (such as typing or using a keyboard)." Others may experience carpal tunnel as the result of joint or bone disease such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, hormonal or metabolic changes such as menopause, pregnancy, or a thyroid problem. Those with a family history are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than those without one.

It's also worth noting that in those with a known diabetes diagnosis, carpal tunnel syndrome is sometimes misdiagnosed as diabetic neuropathy, a similar condition which can affect the hands or wrists but more commonly affects the legs and feet. "Diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve damage often found in those with diabetes, comes as a result of damage to small vessels caused by extended periods of high glucose levels," explains South Islands Orthopedics, a New York-based medical group. "It is fairly common in diabetics. Consequently, since there is no cure, when the symptoms associated with it appear in the hands and wrists, most people believe there is no alternative other than learning to live with the pain and loss of function," they add. 

Speak with your doctor if you notice signs of carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if you experience any other symptoms of diabetes.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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