What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Table of Contents
In order to understand what might be happening to you, when it comes to peripheral neuropathy, the best place to start is with the medical definitions of the disease.
Peripheral neuropathy is a nerve disorder that occurs when the peripheral nerves are damaged. This results in burning pain, weakness, numbness and tingling feeling, especially on the feet and hands. However, you might also experience the symptoms in other areas of your body. Since the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy usually affect the areas that are covered in stockings and gloves (i.e. feet and hands) it is usually described as stockings and gloves symptoms distribution. It is the peripheral nervous system which connects nerves from the spinal cord and brain to other parts of your body such as hands, legs, arms, feet, face, mouth, and internal organs. Each nerve in your peripheral nervous system carries out a specific function. Therefore, symptoms you experience may vary depending on the peripheral nerve that is affected.
Peripheral nerves are usually classified into motor nerves that are responsible for movement of muscles, sensory nerves that enable you to feel sensations like pain, vibration, or temperature, and autonomic nerves which control heart rate, blood pressure, bladder and digestion. The work of these peripheral nerves is to transmit signals about physical body sensations you are feeling back to the brain. In case the peripheral nerves are destroyed or damaged it adversely affects the normal functioning of the nerves. Hence, the peripheral nerves might start to send wrong signals of pain to the brain when actually there is no body pain. Also, the nerves might not send any pain signal when your body is actually experiencing pain. Patients with this condition usually describe the symptom of pain as tingling, burning or stabbing.
Other symptoms and signs of peripheral neuropathy include:
· Increased sensitivity to touch
· Muscle weakness
· Falling or loss of coordination
· Blood pressure changes that lead to light-headedness or dizziness
· Digestive problems
· Altered sweating in case autonomic nerves are affected
Peripheral neuropathy can occur as a result of infections, metabolic problems, traumatic injuries or inherited disorder. It can be uncomfortable to have this disorder but the good news is that treatments can help relieve the symptoms. Medications given to patients with peripheral neuropathy can help reduce the burning pain. However, before you are given medications, your doctor will try to determine the underlying cause of the condition. In most cases, if peripheral neuropathy is caused by a condition that is treatable, your symptoms might improve when the cause is treated. It is advisable that you visit your doctor right away once you notice symptoms like muscle weakness or pain, unusual pain in your feet or hands. When the condition is diagnosed and treated early, it gives the best opportunity for controlling the symptoms you are having in addition to preventing more damage to the peripheral nerves.
Common types of peripheral neuropathy
There are several different types of peripheral neuropathy that are caused by different factors like diabetes, malnutrition, alcoholism, toxic exposure, traumatic injury, and taking certain medications like those used to treat HIV/AIDs or cancer. In case the underlying cause of peripheral neuropathy in an individual is not yet known, the type of peripheral neuropathy is described as idiopathic.
Peripheral neuropathy can also be classified according to the number of nerves that are damaged. In the case where one nerve is only affected, it is known as mononeuropathy. However, in the situation where many nerves are damaged, the condition is referred to as polyneuropathy. Peripheral neuropathies are usually classified according to the root cause of the problem. The following are the common types of peripheral neuropathy:
As we have seen above, mononeuropathy is a common type of peripheral neuropathy that occurs as a result of damage to one peripheral nerve. When this condition happens, it negatively affects the body part with the damaged nerve, leading to loss of movement, function or sensation in that specific area. The common cause of mononeuropathy includes physical trauma or pressure on the nerve. Extended nerve pressure that is caused by prolonged sedentary postures such as lying in bed can lead to mononeuropathy. Carpal tunnel syndrome, which refers to traumatic injury that one experiences as a result of continuous use of wrist or hands, for example while using a laptop or computer is a common cause of mononeuropathy. Also, people who are involved in work that requires repetitive wrist motions like physical laborers might be at increased risk of having mononeuropathy.
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually results in unusual sensations, numbness, tingling and pain in the fingers and hands. The most common cause of mononeuropathy includes repetitive stress motion, accidents or falls. Mononeuropathy can also be caused by other factors such as vascular disorders, metabolic disorders, alcoholism, chemotherapy, systemic diseases like kidney disorders and diabetes. Both men and women can get mononeuropathy. However, your risk of getting this condition is high when you are Caucasian. Also, if you are involved in activities with continuous wrist motion, you are at a higher risk of getting mononeuropathy.
Polyneuropathy is the most common type of peripheral neuropathy. Most people suffering from peripheral neuropathy are diagnosed with polyneuropathy. This condition usually occurs when many peripheral nerves within the body are damaged. When nerves in your organs, muscles, and skin are damaged, they are unable to send regular signals to your brain. It is important to note that polyneuropathy does not affect your brain or spine nerves. There are different factors that can contribute to polyneuropathy. They include poor nutrition, alcohol abuse, and disease complications such as kidney failure or cancer. You can either be diagnosed with acute polyneuropathy or chronic polyneuropathy.
Acute polyneuropathy is a condition that is characterized by severe symptoms that occur suddenly. Acute polyneuropathy can occur if you experience an autoimmune reaction or an infection that leads to nerve damage. The good thing is that when you have acute polyneuropathy, it can successfully be treated within a short period of time. On the other hand, chronic polyneuropathy occurs when your symptoms persist for long periods of time and cannot be quickly treated. Chronic polyneuropathy can be as a result of underlying problem such as kidney failure or diabetes. There are different factors which can contribute to chronic polyneuropathy which are not obvious or clear. Meaning causes can either be idiopathic (i.e. not known) hereditary or acquired (i.e. traumatic injury or infection). Polyneuropathy treatment varies depending on the determining factors of cause.
Peripheral neuropathy is when a nerve is destroyed or damaged which affects the normal functioning of the PNS or peripheral nervous system. In some cases, peripheral neuropathy can happen for no clear reason. When the cause cannot be established, it is described as idiopathic neuropathy. Idiopathic neuropathy usually affects people who are above the age of 60. After the onset of this condition, it usually progresses very slowly and can severely affect the normal lifestyle of affected individuals. Idiopathic neuropathy is usually characterized by symptoms such as pain, muscle weakness, numbness and balance problems when walking or standing.
When you experience symptoms of idiopathic neuropathy, it is advisable you visit your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis usually entails physical examination of the patient and checking your medical history. A doctor may perform different diagnostic tests such as imaging testing, nerve testing and blood tests. Sadly, idiopathic neuropathy has no recovery. However, patients with this condition can seek treatment such as lifestyle modifications, physical therapies and medications to help improve one’s lifestyle.
Prediabetes is a term that is used to describe a condition characterized by blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. It is reported that about 10 percent of adults in the United States have prediabetes. If prediabetes is not treated, there is increased risk that it could progress to type 2 diabetes and cause complications such as heart disease and nerve damage. The latter (i.e. nerve damage) is the one that could lead to peripheral neuropathy. If you have prediabetes, you can reduce your risk of having type 2 diabetes through proper diet, exercising regularly and monitoring your blood glucose levels.
Patients with prediabetes might not experience any symptom, which makes it hard to know if they are at increased risk of developing peripheral neuropathy. If you have prediabetes, you can watch out for common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy such as numbness, pain and tingling sensations in hands or feet. Once you notice these symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately. Your doctor may perform different tests such as blood test and oral glucose tolerance test to check if you have prediabetes. Other tests including physical examination, electromyography, and neurological evaluation may be performed to check if you have prediabetes neuropathy. After being diagnosed with prediabetes neuropathy, your doctor may recommend you take OTC pain relievers for mild pain.
Diabetic neuropathy is a common type of peripheral neuropathy that occurs when diabetes harms your nerves. Patients with diabetes have high blood sugar levels, which if not controlled, can damage the nerves in their body. Nerve damage is one of the most common complications of diabetes that affects about 60 percent of patients with diabetes. Patients with diabetic neuropathy usually have damaged nerves in their feet and legs. Depending on the nerves that are affected, diabetic neuropathy may result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling, burning pain and problems that affect your heart, digestive system and urinary tract.
In some cases, the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can be disabling, painful or even fatal. Diabetic neuropathies usually affect people with abnormal blood sugar levels, overweight, high levels of blood pressure and are above the age of 40. The early symptoms of diabetic neuropathy usually improve when your blood glucose level is kept under control and you adopt a healthy lifestyle. The main aim of diabetic neuropathy treatment is to relieve pain symptoms as well as prevent more damage to your nerve tissue. You will be advised to try and bring your blood glucose levels under control through medication and diet. As part of your treatment, you may need to inspect your feet daily and wear special shoes.
Hereditary neuropathies refer to nerve disorders group that is associated with muscle wasting and weakness in the hands and lower legs. This condition can be passed from parents with neuropathies to their children. The genes that are responsible for hereditary neuropathies are known and it is advisable you go for tests to diagnose the condition. The two types of hereditary neuropathies include Charcoat Marie Tooth Disease and HNPP. Charcoat Marie Tooth Disease is a neurological disorder that is inherited and results in muscle wasting in the hand, lower leg, foot and forearm. You may also experience loss of sensation in the toes, fingers and limbs.
Symptoms may vary from mild to severe depending on patients affected by Charcoat Marie Tooth Disease. With time the symptoms may lead to loss of sensation or severe weakness. HNPP is a hereditary disorder where trauma or mild pressure on one nerve leads to weakness or numbness in the affected body area. The common body areas that are usually affected include wrists, knees and elbows. HNPP has no treatment. If you have this condition, you can avoid positions that increase pressure on affected areas like crossing your legs or leaning on your elbow.
Common causes of peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that can be caused by many factors and is not defined as one single disease.
The following are the common causes of peripheral neuropathy.
· Exposure to toxic substances like heavy metal and chemicals
· Autoimmune disease such as lupus, Guillain Barre syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis
· Infections such as hepatitis C, shingles and HIV
· Inherited disorders like Charcoat Marie Tooth disease
· Traumatic injury or nerve pressures such as typing continuously
· Vitamin B and E deficiencies
Treatments For Neuropathy
It is always advisable you seek treatment once you are diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. If left untreated, peripheral neuropathy can lead to permanent damage to your nerves. If the cause of neuropathy can be established, treatment will aim at addressing the underlying problem. In case of idiopathic neuropathy, treatment involves OTC and prescription drugs, occupational therapy and physical therapy. To help with balance and walking, one may be given mobility aids such as braces or special shoes. In the case diabetes is causing mononeuropathy, you may receive treatment to help control your blood sugar levels. This includes oral diabetes medications or insulin injections. Lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and eating healthy food may also be needed.
In case neuropathy is caused by compression like carpel tunnel, surgery may be needed to solve the issue. Non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs may be used to treat patients with polyneuropathy. If an autoimmune condition is causing polyneuropathy different methods of treatment or therapies may be recommended. They include cortico-steroids, plasma exchange, and immune globulin that are exchanged into the veins. Therapies such as acupuncture, ozone therapy, massage, chiropractic care, yoga and meditation can help relieve the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
Possibilities of reversal, disease progression and complete recovery
The million dollar question that most people ask, is whether peripheral neuropathy is reversible. According to the Mayo Clinic, once peripheral neuropathy has occurred in an individual, there is no medication that can reverse it. However, there are medications and therapies, including lifestyle changes that can be made to prevent disease progression that could lead to further damages of the nerves. Lifestyle changes may include quitting smoking, exercising regularly, weight loss, reducing consumption of alcohol and taking diabetes medications. Research has shown that it is possible to reverse and recovery peripheral neuropathy if specific cause of the condition can be identified and treated. In this case treatment may take several months or years, before the disease is totally recoveryd.