What is Neuropathy You Ask?
neuropathy is a term used to describe disorders of your peripheral
nervous system. Your nerves provide communication between your brain
and your muscles, skin, internal organs and blood vessels. When
damaged, your nerves can't communicate properly, and that
miscommunication causes symptoms such as pain or numbness.
neuropathy often affects people with diabetes and autoimmune diseases
such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Certain vitamin deficiencies,
some medications and alcoholism can also damage peripheral nerves.
underlying condition may relieve some cases of peripheral neuropathy.
In other cases, treatment of peripheral neuropathy may focus on
managing pain. Peripheral nerves have a remarkable ability to
regenerate themselves, and new treatments for peripheral neuropathy
using nerve growth factors or gene therapy may offer even better
chances for recovery in the future.
network of peripheral nerves includes the motor nerves, which help
your muscles contract, and the sensory nerves, which allow you to feel
a range of sensations. In addition, your peripheral nerves help
control some of the involuntary functions of the autonomic nervous
system, which regulates your internal organs, sweat glands and blood
peripheral nerves are fragile and easily damaged. Damage to a
peripheral nerve can interfere with the communication between the area
it serves and your brain, affecting your ability to move certain
muscles or feel normal sensations. Your symptoms will depend on the
cause of your neuropathy and on which nerve or nerves are involved.
If a sensory
nerve is damaged, you may experience: pain, numbness, tingling, muscle
weakness, burning, or loss of feeling. These symptoms often begin
gradually. You may have a tingling sensation or numbness that starts
in your toes or the balls of your feet and spreads upward. Tingling
might also begin in your hands and extend up your arms. In some cases
your skin may become so sensitive that the slightest touch is
agonizing. You may also have numbness, or even a complete lack of
feeling, in your hands or feet. At times your symptoms may be barely
noticeable, and some people go years without realizing anything is
wrong. For others, symptoms are constant, and especially at night may
be almost unbearable.
occurs to several nerves, the cause frequently is diabetes. At least
half of all people with diabetes develop some type of neuropathy.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to pinpoint the cause of
peripheral neuropathy. In fact, if your neuropathy isn't associated
with diabetes, it's possible the cause may never be found.
places you at high risk of developing peripheral nerve damage. In
fact, at least half of people with diabetes have some form of
neuropathy. The risk increases the longer you have diabetes, and is
highest for those who've had the disease for more than 25 years. Your
risk is even greater if you are older than 40 or have difficulty
controlling your blood sugar level.
researchers don't understand exactly how damage occurs, a high blood
sugar level seems to impair your nerves' ability to transmit signals.
You can help reduce your risk by carefully following a medically
approved plan for keeping your blood sugar level as close to normal as
Your risk of
developing peripheral neuropathy is also higher if you have one or
more of the following risk factors:
deficiency. A lack of certain vitamins, especially B-1 (thiamin)
and B-12 makes peripheral neuropathy more likely.
disorders. You're more likely to develop peripheral neuropathy if
you have an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis,
or if your immune system is compromised by the human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV) or AIDS.
abuse. Excessive drinking of alcohol can affect your nervous
system, causing numbness of your hands and feet.
stress. A job or hobby that puts stress on one nerve for long
periods of time increases your chances of developing peripheral
neuropathy. In carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, the median nerve
that extends through your wrist into your fingers becomes compressed.
Repetitive assembly line work or work involving prolonged, heavy
gripping can compress the median nerve. Playing golf, tennis or a
musical instrument and using vibrating power tools or even crutches
also can put pressure on peripheral nerves.
substances. Exposure to some toxic substances can make you
susceptible to peripheral nerve damage. These substances include heavy
metals, such as lead, mercury and arsenic; organic solvents; and
certain medications, such as those used to treat cancer or AIDS.
neuropathy isn't a single disease, but rather a syndrome with many
causes. For that reason it can be difficult to diagnose. To help in
the diagnosis, your doctor will likely take a full medical history and
perform a physical and neurological exam that may include checking
your tendon reflexes, your muscle strength and tone, your ability to
feel certain sensations, and your posture and coordination.
neuropathy may cause a number of complications. Damage to the nerves
in your feet, along with poor circulation, can lead to ulcers and even
gangrene. But it's not only your feet that are vulnerable —
diabetes-related neuropathy can affect any organ in your body.
The goal of
treatment is to manage the underlying condition causing your
neuropathy and repair damage, as well as provide symptom relief. If
your doctor hasn't been able to determine the cause of your
neuropathy, he or she may try a variety of medications to see which
help ease your symptoms.
chronic condition may not eliminate your neuropathy, but it can play a
key role in managing it. Here's what your doctor may recommend for
treating various underlying conditions:
The best way to
prevent peripheral neuropathy is to carefully manage any medical
condition that puts you at risk. That means controlling your blood
sugar level if you have diabetes or talking to your doctor about safe
and effective treatments if you think you may have a problem with
Whether or not
you have a medical condition, eat a healthy diet that's rich in
fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. The best food
sources of vitamin B-12 are meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy foods and
fortified cereals. If you're a strict vegetarian, fortified cereals
are a good source of vitamin B-12 for you, but you may also want to
talk to your doctor about B-12 supplements.