IT is a little known illness that even medical professionals can miss.

But Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) is thought to affect around 23,000 people in the UK... even if they don't know they have it.

Now one sufferer is speaking out about her life with the condition in the hope of helping others be diagnosed and seek support.

It was always obvious that Dawn Edmiston had CMT.

Her father had the condition and there is a 50 per cent chance of passing it on, so when Dawn was born with foot problems, medics knew immediately what was wrong.

Now 31, she has endured six operations to correct her feet and lives with constant pain.

But Dawn, from Kelvinbridge, is using exercise to tackle the neurological condition in a positive way.

She said: "After my operations I lost quite a bit of confidence because I felt like I had been on a certain path - to graduate from university, go travelling and get a job - then I didn't know where I was going.

"I felt I wasn't able to do anything worthwhile and I was missing out.

"It made me doubt my abilities.

"But a positive attitude got me through it. I kept going and returned to fitness and physiotherapy and accepted help from different services."

Steadily progressive, CMT causes muscle weakness and wasting in the lower legs and feet.

This can lead to problems such as hammer toes, restricted mobility and uncontrollable pain.

Hands and fingers are also affected, making certain tasks such as fastening shoe laces and buttons - those needing fine motor skills - very difficult.

Named after the three scientists who discovered it, CMT is not life-threatening but it can significantly reduce the quality of life of those will the illness and some people end up as wheelchair users.

Dawn had her first foot operation at the age of five.

At 16 she began wearing leg braces, which she would try to hide underneath trousers, not wanting her peers to know she was living with an illness.

Dawn, who studied languages at university before graduating in June 2011, was supposed to have two foot surgeries after university.

But the two turned into five major operations that took up two years of her life.

Screws were put in her ankles to keep her feet perpendicular to her heels, and her heels were cut and reshaped.

Surgeons broke and then reset the bones in her feet.

Gradually Dawn, who lives with constant pain and burning in her hands and feet, went back to Pilates and joined aquafit, which allows her to do exercises in the water she couldn't otherwise carry out.

She plays wheelchair basketball, cycles on an electric bike and recently used an all-terrain mobility scooter to explore the forest trail leading to Bracklin Fells outside Stirling.

Dawn said: "It's about knowing my own limitations but I want to do as many things as I can.

"I used to be very guarded about the condition but now I want other people to know about it.

"Many people go undiagnosed but the early you are diagnosed, the earlier you can start getting help."

Dawn, who also deals with weakness and fatigue, has joined the charity CMT UK, which she says helps as it is "isolating not knowing other people with CMT".

Dawn said: "I was always very private about the condition and never talked about it until I found CMT UK, a charity for people with the illness.

"As odd as it may sound, it had never occurred to me to look up CMT on the internet but when I did, I found CMT UK and now I chat to people online who also have the condition.

"It is hard. When I go out I have to use walking sticks and people do stare - you don't often see people my age with sticks.

CMT's Chief Operating Officer Karen Butcher can trace CMT back six generations in her family."

She said: "There are still too many medical professionals including GPs, physiotherapists, orthotists, surgeons - and even neurologists - who still don't know what CMT is, therefore an integral part of tis year's campaign will be to educate them about the condition so they can help make a diagnosis, if needed.

"It is also important for us to reach those who think they might have the condition, but haven't been diagnosed yet.

"Sometimes the symptoms aren't obvious, but due to the fact that CMT affects the hands and feet, it could be they have trouble balancing, find they regularly trip of fall over and are constantly tired.

"There could be many reasons for symptoms like these but if you have any it would be a good idea to ask your GP about CMT.

"Early diagnosis helps improve the lives of those with the condition."

Dawn is now thinking of starting a family but worries about passing the condition on.

She said: "A family is definitely something I want for my future but there is guilt there about passing this on.

"It is a lot for a child to deal with - is it fair?

"I also worry about my abilities as a mother, running after a toddler, and the safety aspects of holding a small child when I have balance issues.

"But even with these issues, CMT is a part of me that's not going away and I accept that now.

"It sets me apart from others. But I've just got to get on with it and hold my head high."