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Peripheral Neuropathy: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatments

Epic Healthcare » Peripheral Neuropathy: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatments
Hands with red pain spot

If you suffer from peripheral neuropathy you’re not alone. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that affects 20 million Americans. It’s a condition where the nerves that are outside of the central nervous system become injured or damaged. This can include nerves in the legs, feet, arms, hands, and shoulders.

Peripheral neuropathy has specific signs and symptoms that can alert you that it may be time to seek treatment.

Fast facts on peripheral neuropathy

Here are some quick things to know about peripheral neuropathy:

  • Peripheral neuropathy affects the nerves farthest from the spinal cord first, typically the feet, sometimes hands, and gets continually worse.
  • “Neuropathy” refers to dysfunction or disease related to the nerves and “peripheral”—in this context—refers to “beyond” the brain and spinal cord.
  • Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerve damage disrupts communication between the nerves, spinal cord, and brain.
  • Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can occur independently or at the same time.
  • There are different treatments for peripheral neuropathy.

What is the peripheral nervous system?

When talking about the peripheral nervous system, it’s important to understand that the body’s nervous system is made up of two parts. The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) connects the nerves that run from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. This includes the arms, hands, legs, feet, and internal organs.

Peripheral nerves form an incredibly intricate network that connects the skin, muscles, and internal organs to the spinal cord and brain. Peripheral nerves originate at the spinal cord and branch out into the body along lines called dermatomes. When nerve damage affects a dermatome, that area of the body can no longer communicate properly with the brain. The communication breakdown can lead to unusual and unpleasant sensations.

What are the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy?

It is best to seek help at the first sign of weakness, tingling, or pain. The earlier we can diagnose your condition and begin treatment, the higher the likelihood of preventing further damage.

Symptoms commonly include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased sensitivity to touch
  • Sharp or throbbing pain
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet that gradually spreads to the arms or legs
  • Burning or freezing sensations
  • Decreased coordination

If autonomic nerves are involved, additional symptoms can include:

  • Bladder or digestive system problems
  • Decreased tolerance to heat
  • Changes in sweating
  • Changes in blood pressure that cause light-headedness or dizziness

What are the types of peripheral neuropathy?

There are different types of peripheral neuropathy that affect different parts of the body and cause different types of nerve damage.

Sensory neuropathy

If someone suffers from sensory neuropathy, the body’s sensory nerves have become damaged. It typically starts in the feet and hands and travels to the legs and arms. You’ll feel symptoms in parts of your body where nerves are affected. These symptoms include:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Unexplained burning
  • Sharp stabbing pains

Motor neuropathy

Motor neuropathy affects your body’s motor nerves that control your muscles. People who suffer from this condition may feel weakness in their arms and hands. This is because motor neuropathy makes it hard to send electrical signals that move your body. Patients may also feel twitching and cramping.

Motor neuropathy is an autoimmune disease because your immune system mistakenly attacks your nerve cells as if they were invaders. Researchers are still trying to figure out why this happens.

Diabetes and diabetic neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can happen if you have diabetes. High blood sugar can injure nerves through the body.

It can be a serious complication of diabetes that may affect up to 50% of people with diabetes. Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include:

  • Pain and numbness in legs and feet
  • Digestive system & urinary tract problems
  • Issues with blood vessels and the heart

Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy happens when the nerves that control involuntary bodily functions are damaged. It can affect blood pressure, temperature control, bladder, and digestion.

When someone suffers from autonomic neuropathy, the nerve damage interferes with the messages that are sent between the brains and other organs as well as the autonomic nervous system.

Diabetes is the most common cause of autonomic neuropathy, but other health conditions and infections can be to blame. It’s also possible for certain medications to cause nerve damage.

How is peripheral neuropathy diagnosed?

Since there are many potential causes of peripheral neuropathy, a physical exam which may include a blood test is required. A full medical history is also needed to review symptoms, lifestyle, habits, exposure to toxins, and any family history of the nervous system.

A neurological exam may also be done to check on tendon reflexes, muscle strength, and tone. The exam will also look at your ability to feel certain sensations as well as your posture and coordination.

Your doctor may also order a CT scan or MRI. This will show if anything is pressing on a nerve, such as a herniated disk or a tumor. A nerve biopsy may also be ordered. This is a minor surgery that removes a small amount of nerve tissue that can be examined under a microscope.

What are the causes of peripheral neuropathy?

Nerve damage that leads to peripheral neuropathy has many causes. Some of the most common include:

Trauma caused by sports injuries falls, car accidents, and repetitive motion

  • Vitamin deficiency: B vitamins and E vitamins are critical to proper nerve function
  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes: Up to 50% of people with diabetes develop peripheral neuropathy
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stroke
  • Back or spine surgery
  • Certain medications and cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy
  • Infections including Lyme disease, shingles, hepatitis C, Epstein-Barrvirus, and other viral or bacterial infections
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals or heavy metals
  • Tumors, whether malignant or benign, can press on nerves
  • Hereditary disorders
  • Bone marrow disorders
  • Kidney or liver disease

A patient may experience one or more of the common causes of peripheral neuropathy.

How do you effectively treat neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is not something you have to deal with for the rest of your life.  There are treatments available to help ease the pain that can be debilitating for some.

There have not been many treatments for peripheral neuropathy until recently. Many patients were told they would have to live with their pain or take epilepsy and seizure mediations such as Lyrica and Neurontin.

Elavil and other antidepressants and opiate pain killers have also been prescribed. Side effects of these drugs are numerous, including nausea, drowsiness, weight gain, swelling, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, mood change, depression, hallucinations,headaches, dizziness, gas, diarrhea, constipation, insomnia, dry mouth, blurred vision, delusions, suicidal ideations, and many more.

Many patients don’t want to have to deal with these side effects on top of the pain that their neuropathy is causing. This is why there other treatments available that don’t cause those types of side effects.

The most effective treatment option for peripheral neuropathy isn’t always obvious. Our doctors perform a thorough examination to determine which type of therapy—or a combination of therapies—is most appropriate for your unique situation. Our patients have experienced excellent results with:

  • Regenerative medicine, including platelet-rich plasma
  • Trigger point injections
  • Spinal decompression and chiropractic care (nearly all patients with neuropathy in the feet also have lower back issues)
  • Laser therapy
  • Medical weight loss

When you come in for a consultation, and we’ll help you decide on the treatment plan that will work for you. Some patients benefit from Electronic Signal Treatment. Patients who get this treatment get specific electrical frequency and amplitude to target the offending nerves.  These help to calm down the nerves and reduce the irritation. As chemical messengers in the nervous system are stimulated, the damaged cells can get repaired. Decreased inflammation, swelling, improved circulation and neuron function, are also benefits of Electronic Signal Treatment.

No steroids are used in this treatment.This can weaken the immune system response and can increase blood glucose levels. With our integrated nerve block, patients receive an injection around the major nerves of the lower leg and foot using Marcaine, a local anesthetic. This not only helps to reduce pain, but also makes the Electric Signal Treatment more effective.

Treating mononeuropathies

Patients suffering from mononeuropathy have damage to a single nerve. This results in a loss of movement, sensation, or other function. Long-term pressure on a nerve due to swelling or injury can lead to mononeuropathy.

Examples of mononeuropathy include carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a painful wrist and hand disorder that is often linked with repetitive tasks like using a computer keyboard. Bell’s palsy, a facial nerve disorder, is also an example of mononeuropathy.

When treating mononeuropathies, the goal is to allow the patient to use the affected part of the body as much as possible. Many times it’s necessary to treat the underlying condition that leads to nerve damage. For example, if high blood pressure or diabetes led to an injured artery, those conditions should be dealt with first.

Treatment options for mononeuropathies can include:

  • Over the counter painkillers
  • Physical therapy
  • Braces, splints, other devices to help with muscle strength.

Mononeuropathy can be painful and even disabling. While a full recovery is possible in some cases, nerve pain can last for a long time.

What can I do to prevent or help neuropathy?

There are several things you can do to prevent neuropathy. These include:

  • Exercise
  • Evaluate medication list
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid prolonged pressure on nerves or limbs
  • Proper nutrition and healthy meals
  • Get adequate sleep and rest
  • Spinal hygiene and proper care of the spine

At Epic Healthcare & Physical Medicine, we are committed to relieving the pain that many patients deal with daily. The stabbing, burning, and tingling of peripheral neuropathy can be tough to ignore. Our medical clinic offers safe and effective treatment options for this uncomfortable condition. Take advantage of a free evaluation with one of our skilled doctors and learn more about the advanced pain relief therapies available to you.

If you are suffering from peripheral neuropathy, call us today at (972) 355-0083 to learn more about our treatments and how we can help.

 

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