Neuropathy: Get the Facts on This Little-Known Nerve Disorder
Neuropathy or peripheral neuropathy afflicts millions of people across this country. If you suffer from this disorder, your symptoms may include unexplained pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness. The symptoms will appear in the legs, feet, arms, hands and other parts of your body depending on the cause of it in a particular sufferer. When you first notice signs of the disorder, you should consult a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation. In addition, if there is an underlying health condition present that may influence the onset of the neuropathy the doctor should also address that to bring you relief.
What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a health condition that occurs when the peripheral nerves fail to function properly. These nerves are responsible for the transmission of signals from the brain to the central nervous system and other various areas of your body. When injuries, illnesses or other issues negatively affect the peripheral nerves’ ability to signal the areas of the body correctly, the neuropathy symptoms can occur in the body and range from mild to quite severe at times. Symptoms range from an aggravating tingling sensation to a burning pain.
Types of Peripheral Neuropathy
According to the medical experts, there are various types of peripheral neuropathy that vary slightly from each other in symptoms, prognosis and treatment options. All the types, though, fall into one of the categories below:
• Autonomic nerve neuropathy happens when damage occurs to the nerves that help the body’s organs function in a normal manner. The reason for this is the fact that the damaged nerves cannot transmit signals from the brain to the autonomic nervous system or vice versa effectively.
• Multifocal motor neuropathy negatively affects the motor nerves of the body. Without these nerves functioning correctly, you cannot control your muscles in the typical manner. The nerves are unable to signal the muscles to move, and this can lead to muscular weakness, twitching or cramping.
• Sensory neuropathy negatively affects the cutaneous sensory nerves that allow you to feel sensations through touch. You will first experience issues with your feet before the neuropathy symptoms move upwards to other parts of the body.
You need to be aware that you can suffer from more than one type of neuropathy simultaneously. Of course, the more types of neuropathy that you suffer from the higher number of symptoms you will exhibit daily.
Causes of Neuropathy
The causes of neuropathy will vary greatly depending on which type of the disorder that you suffer from, but the most common causes are:
• Injury to the nerves from an accident, surgery or other type of trauma causes the type of damage that results in neuropathy symptoms.
• Autoimmune diseases, especially with the multifocal motor neuropathy are often determining factors. Systemic lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are just two examples of these diseases.
• Infections such as herpes viruses, Lyme disease, leprosy, shingles, hepatitis C, HIV, diphtheria, syphilis and other diseases can damage nerves to cause neuropathy. In addition, types of cancers and kidney disorders are other causes for this nerve disorder.
• Diabetes increases your risk for neuropathy, and diabetics often report symptoms of this nerve disorder. Commonly it afflicts those diabetics who have trouble managing their diabetes or have other issues such as high blood pressure, obesity or other health issues along with the diabetes.
• Alcoholism destroys valuable nutrients and cell growth in the body, both of which can cause the nerve damage that brings on various symptoms of neuropathy.
• You can suffer from inherited forms of neuropathy if it runs in your family. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and Friedreich’s ataxia are two examples of these kinds of neuropathy.
• Exposure to poisons and other toxins causes the nerve damage that leads to various forms of neuropathy. Examples of these substances include lead, mercury and other heavy metals along with industrial solvents and chemicals.
• Deficiencies in vitamin E and most of the B vitamins will impair nerve function and are one of the leading causes of neuropathy.
• Medications such as the ones given in chemotherapy to cancer patients are another cause of peripheral neuropathy.
• Vascular disorders such as blood clots, vein inflammation and other vein issues can prevent oxygen from reaching nerve cells, and this results in the type of damage that causes neuropathy to occur in your body.
Symptoms of Neuropathy
The symptoms of neuropathy are dependent on which type that you suffer from, but we have grouped the common symptoms accordingly in the following information:
1. Symptoms of Autonomic Nerve Neuropathy
• A change in heart rate or blood pressure • Difficulty urinating • Decreased activity of the sweat glands • Digestion issues • Nausea • Constipation • Vomiting • Diarrhea • Unexplained weight loss • Sexual dysfunction
2. Symptoms of Multifocal Motor Neuropathy
• Less control of muscles • Muscle weakness • Muscle cramps, twitching or spasms • Decreased muscle tone and dexterity • Difficulty moving legs or arms that also leads to difficulty walking or reaching over your head respectively • Difficulty moving other parts of the body • An increase in falling episodes
3. Symptoms of Sensory Neuropathy
• Difficulty breathing or swallowing • Numbness in certain areas of the body such as your feet and hands • A difficult time moving your feet, legs, arms or hands • Difficulty walking • Tingling, burning, painful or other abnormal sensations in any part of your body • Weakness in muscles in your limbs or body • Decreased feeling in legs, arms or other parts of the body
Symptoms may appear quickly such as they do with Guillain-Barre syndrome or gradually over a period of time ranging from weeks to years as with other forms of peripheral neuropathy. Typically, you will suffer neuropathy of both the right and left sides of your body with the symptoms starting in your feet before moving up to other areas of the body.
Procedure for Diagnosing Neuropathy
You should consult with a neurologist for a proper diagnosis. When diagnosing neuropathy, your neurologist will first ask you about your medical history and your symptoms. Then, he will perform a physical exam to further his information in order to come up with a proper diagnosis. In addition, your doctor will order a variety of tests, including the following ones:
• Blood tests will detect various diseases such as diabetes, kidney issues, liver problems or hormonal imbalances. On top of this, blood tests measure vitamin and mineral levels to discover whether or not you are deficient in important nutrients. These tests also will show if any toxins are present in your system. Any issues that these tests discover may need addressing along with your neuropathy.
• An electromyography or EMG records the electrical activity in your resting muscles, especially for detecting multifocal motor neuropathy.
• A nerve conduction velocity or NCV will measure how quickly electrical signals move through the nerves.
• Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI will rule in or out underlying issues, such as herniated discs, tumors or other issues that may cause your particular neuropathic symptoms.
Once the doctor understands which type of neuropathy that you suffer from, and what causes it, he or she will prescribe one or more of the following neuropathy treatments:
• Doctor will treat all underlying infections or diseases.
• If your neuropathy is the result of hormonal or nutrient imbalances, your doctor will address those with the appropriate action.
• Pain medication is turned to for pain relief.
• Physical therapy will improve range of motion and improve muscle strength along with other benefits.
• The doctor may prescribe laxatives to relieve constipation, digestive aids to improve your digestions or advise you to eat small meals frequently throughout the day.
• Occupational therapy will help you deal with loss of muscle function.
• Braces and other mechanical aids will allow you to move more easily.
If you even suspect that you suffer from a form of peripheral neuropathy, consult with a neurologist at your earliest convenience. He or she will be able to diagnose your condition correctly and prescribe the right course of treatment to provide you relief from your symptoms.