Agent Orange Link to Diabetic Neuropathy

The strongest evidence to date linking diabetes and neuropathy to Agent Orange, a herbicide used by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, has been acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).  The finding was included in the third and final report for a 20-year study on long-term health issues related to the herbicides use.

The “Ranch Hand Study” summarizes the results of the 2002 physical examination of 1,951 veterans and confirms the findings from earlier reports in l992 and l997.    The report, along with many other studies on Agent Orange, which contains the highly toxic agent dioxin, will be reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. Based upon this review, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs can ask Congress for legislation on disability compensation and health care.

Estimates of the incidence of neuropathy in patients with diabetes vary widely, from 5 percent to 60 percent, and electromyographic (EMG) abnormalities are a common finding. In the largest prospective study published (4,400 patients over a period of 26 years), the incidence of diabetic neuropathy was reported to be 7.5 percent at the time diabetes was diagnosed; at 25 years after diagnosis, the incidence was reported to be 50 percent.

Results single out adult-onset diabetes and its complications as the most important health problem seen in the study. They suggest increased dioxin levels hasten the onset of Type II diabetes and its severity.   A 166 percent increase in diabetes requiring insulin control was seen in those with the highest levels of dioxin. This is consistent with the strong evidence found in animal studies. About 60 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy.

Diabetes is the leading cause of neuropathy in developed countries, and neuropathy is the greatest cause of morbidity and mortality in diabetes patients.  Diabetic neuropathy is implicated in 50-75% of non-traumatic amputations.


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