Although many people suffer from this condition, yet peripheral neuropathy is a relatively less discussed condition. According to recent estimates, about 20 million Americans suffer from this condition. In addition, this condition is rampant among diabetic patients and over 50% of diabetics in the US suffer from this condition. You may be surprised to know that even simple repetitive action like typing on a keyboard on a daily basis can give rise to this disorder of the peripheral nervous system. This condition in fact refers to a collection of disorders that affects the nerves of the peripheral nervous system, which refers to the nerves besides the brain and spinal cord. Neuropathy often results in numbness and pain in the hands and feet region of the body. Reasons that may cause neuropathy include injuries, metabolic disorders, traumatic injuries, and toxin exposure. Diabetes is also a major cause of peripheral neuropathy.
Causes of neuropathy are classified into idiopathic and acquired. Idiopathic neuropathies refer to those from unknown causes while in case of acquired neuropathy the cause is known. About 30% of the neuropathy cases are idiopathic while another 50% of neuropathy scenarios are due to diabetes. The various causes of acquired neuropathy include:
- Constant trauma on nerves, caused due to repetitive actions like typing
- Nutritional problems such as vitamin deficiencies, often due to a lack of Vitamin B, A,E
- Chronic alcoholism
- Poison exposure, like heavy metal toxins, certain medications and due to conventional cancer treatment
- Diseases and infections like Kidney disease, liver disease, hypothyroidism, HIV/AIDS, Lyme disease etc.
- Inherited disorders like amyloid neuropathy and Charcot Marie Tooth disease
- Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Guillian Barre syndrome
- Intense physical trauma like electric shock, gunshot wounds etc.
Symptoms of neuropathy
The symptoms can be classified into either negative (loss of function) or positive (gain of function). The negative symptoms include gait abnormality, tremor and numbness. The positive symptoms include pain, tingling, itching and crawling. Patients often report a typical pins and needles sensation. In extreme cases, the skin may become so hypersensitive that the patients cannot bear anything touch their body like bed sheets or socks. Many patients also report wearing of an invisible ‘sock’ or ‘stocking’ on their hands and feet. The sensations tend to deteriorate during night. Pain in muscles (myalgia) and cramps have also been reported as symptoms. Other symptoms include constipation, sexual dysfunction, bladder dysfunction, diarrhea and skin problems.
Types of neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is mainly classified into three separate categories:
- Mononeuropathy: The neuropathy affects a single nerve. Instances include radial nerve palsy, ulnar nerve palsy, carpal tunnel syndrome and peroneal nerve palsy
- Multiple mononeuropathy: More than one nerves are individually affected
- Polyneuropathy: This refers to generalized neuropathy in peripheral nerves. Diabetic neuropathy is an example in this regard. This is the commonest kind of neuropathy.
The diagnosis of neuropathy is tricky. As this is not a single disease but a symptom that has several potential causes. The diagnostic procedure involves the evaluation of the full medical history of the patient combined with neurological and physical exams like checking the tendon reflexes, the ability to feel sensations, muscle strength and tone and also discrepancies in posture and coordination. Doctors would also suggest blood tests to determine whether the patient has Vitamin B deficiency. Other tests include nerve conduction tests, thyroid function tests and urinalysis.
Different types of treatments are available for neuropathy. From traditional pills to special diets and creams that stimulate the nervous system, doctors prescribe different types of medications depending on the intensity of the problem. Antidepressants are common medicines in treatment of neuropathies. Anticonvulsants are also common neuropathy treatments. These medicines block calcium channels to limit pain. Opium based tablets are also preferred for treatment, but these are not recommended for the fear of dependency. Alternative treatment of neuropathy includes cannabinoids (a type of chemical from marijuana), dietary supplements, yoga, meditation, acupuncture and cognitive therapy.
Neuropathy can be prevented. Maintaining good foot health is important, especially in case of diabetioc patients. Patients should verify the feet for cuts, blisters and calluses and avoid wearing tight fitting shoes and socks. Quitting smoking and eating healthy food is important.
About Author: Mark Sanchez has been writing for JGSupplements.com a health website. Visit our site to get tips that really work for Betaine HCL relationshiops, fitness, beauty, skin care and much more.