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Health & Balance

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Just Clumsy, or Something Serious?

Experts explain when being clumsy is a sign of medical trouble, or just plain klutziness.

High Sugar, Clumsy Feet

Arvind, 52, has lived with diabetes for almost 15 years. Sometimes he controlled his blood glucose levels tightly; other times, he let it slip. But Arvind noticed more and more that he was tripping on rugs and the edges of stairs. He also felt that it was harder to keep his balance at night.

Diagnosis: nerve damage caused by diabetes.

"Peripheral neuropathy is a disease of nerves associated with sensory loss in the hands and feet, and can affect coordination," according to Harrison. Tight control of blood sugar is essential for diabetes patients to avoid this complication, which can lead to serious foot ulcers.

A Gardener's Growing Problem

Madeline, a 68-year-old woman, loves to garden. Recently she felt her right hand get heavy and numb while planting flowers. She said it felt like it went dead on her. This lasted only a few minutes before returning completely to normal. She remembered an almost identical episode about a year ago.

Diagnosis: transient ischemic attack (TIA), or "mini-stroke."

"This is serious," says Harrison, because TIAs make a "real" stroke more likely in the future. "Identifying risk factors for stroke, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking," and treating those risk factors, will reduce the risk of stroke, adds Harrison.

Initial symptoms of stroke and TIA can be the same.The American Stroke Association lists these warning signs of a possible stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination.
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Call for emergency medical help at the first sign of those symptoms. Don't wait to see if they go away and don't judge for yourself how bad they are.

Can a Klutz Be Cured?

While it's necessary to rule out medical causes of clumsiness, the vast majority of people with coordination problems are medically "normal." What about the millions of us who are just tired of bumping into walls and banging shins on coffee tables? Can a normal (but clumsy) person improve his or her coordination? In other words, can a klutz be cured?

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