Over 20 million people in America suffer from neuropathy, sometimes referred to as peripheral neuropathy. In this post, we’ll define what neuropathy is; explore the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment; and connect you with our Neurology team if you suspect that you or a loved one has the condition.
What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that causes numbness, pain, weakness, and other symptoms in the hands and feet, and can limit a person’s daily functioning. It happens when nerve cells are damaged or destroyed, interrupting communication between nerve pathways and the brain.
Neuropathy can be acute or chronic, and treatment options are most often focused on managing symptoms and preventing additional nerve damage.
What are the causes of Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is often linked to pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, trauma, exposure to toxins, or infections, but doesn’t have the same cause in every person. Diabetes is one of the most common cause of neuropathy.
In addition, medications, alcoholism, nutritional deficiencies, various metabolic conditions, bone marrow disorders, or other conditions such as liver or kidney disease, could also contribute to the onset of neuropathy.
What are the symptoms of Neuropathy?
The symptoms of neuropathy can range from mild to debilitating, and may include:
- Pain in the hands, feet, or back
- Difficulty walking due to pain
- Problems with balance
- Heat intolerance
- Excessive sweating or the inability to sweat
- Tingling or “pins and needles” sensation in hands and feet
- Burning pain in hands and feet
- Difficulty making a fist
- Numbness in extremities
- Inability to grip items with hands
- Weakness in arms and legs
- Cramping in hands and feet
- Feeling of knots in the palms of hands and soles of feet
- Extra pain sensitivity to touch
- Heaviness in hands and feet
- Fingers that twist and lock
- Difficulty sleeping due to nighttime aches
- Restless legs and feet
- Wrist pain
- Muscle twitching
- Increased amounts of overall pain and sensitivity at night
In the most severe cases, certain forms of neuropathy can result in organ dysfunctions, muscular atrophy, urinary dysfunction and sexual impairment.
How is Neuropathy diagnosed?
Neuropathy is diagnosed through testing, and examination of a patient’s health history. Diagnostic tests for neuropathy may include electrodiagnostic methods such as nerve conduction studies (NCS) and electromyography (EMG), which assess nerve and muscle function to pinpoint the source of the damage. Also, sensory tests may be conducted to monitor how a patient experiences cold, heat, vibration and touch.
Blood tests may reveal vitamin deficiencies, poor immune function, diabetes or other conditions that could contribute to neuropathy. In some cases, skin biopsies may also detect nerve cell damage in the unmyelinated small peripheral nerve fibers.
What are the treatments for Neuropathy?
The goal of neuropathy treatment is to manage or relieve pain and other symptoms, so that the patient can improve daily function and increase their enjoyment of life. The sooner a patient seeks treatment for neuropathy, the greater the chance of success in relieving or eliminating symptoms.
A Neurologist may recommend topical treatments such as capsaicin cream or lidocaine patches to relieve pain. Additionally, as the patient’s case necessitates, the doctor may prescribe over the counter anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling, or prescription medications for pain management.
Other treatments include anti-seizure medicines to relieve nerve pain, or antidepressants, which can be effective in curbing the chemical processes in the spinal cord and brain that cause the feelings of pain.
If medicines aren’t the preferred treatment, therapies such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to generate gentle electric currents on the skin, physical therapy to improve muscle movement, targeted nerve blocks and electrical spinal cord stimulation may be effective.
Consult with a Neurologist to determine the best treatment plan for your individual needs.
Make an Appointment at WWMG Neurology
If you’re experiencing symptoms of neuropathy, request an appointment with Western Washington Medical Group’s Neurologist.
For more general inquiries, please complete our general contact form.