What is neuropathy?
Neuropathy, or commonly known as nerve pain or nerve damage, is a common condition where you nervous system is damaged. It can affect parts of your body (peripheral neuropathy, radial neuropathy, ulnar neuropathy), or the entire body.
Neuropathy can be caused by a medical condition (such as diabetes) or when your nerve is trapped (carpal tunnel syndrome), and lead to acute pain or chronic pain.
There are more than 100 different types of nerve damage. The various types may have different symptoms and may require different types of treatment.
How common is neuropathy?
Neuropathy is common. It can occur at any age, but is more common among older adults. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of neuropathy?
Depending on which nerve is damaged, the symptoms might be different, but generally, you can expect these symptoms when you have nerve damage.
Autonomic nerves – lose ability to control the involuntary or partially voluntary activities of your body.
- Inability to sense chest pain, such as angina or heart attack;
- Too much sweating (known as hyperhidrosis) or too little sweating (known as anhidrosis);
- Dry eyes and mouth;
- Bladder dysfunction;
- Sexual dysfunction.
Motor nerves – lose ability to control your movements and actions.
- Muscle atrophy;
- Twitching, also known as fasciculation;
Sensory nerve – lose ability to feel pain and other sensations.
- Tingling or prickling;
- Problems with positional awareness.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes neuropathy?
Neuropathy can have many causes. Some nerve damage will appear as a result of aging (peripheral neuropathy). Nerve damage can be a result of an injury such as a head trauma that lead to stretching, cutting or trapping of a nerve.
Many conditions can lead to neuropathy, including but not limited to:
- Autoimmune diseases. Multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nerves), myasthenia gravis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Cancer. Cancer as well as cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, may produce nerve pain.
- Diabetes. About 50% of people with diabetes suffer from nerve damage.
- Medication side effects and toxic substances. Medications, such as chemotherapy for cancer and certain drugs used to treat HIV. Toxic substances that may be ingested accidentally, including lead, arsenic and mercury, may also cause damage to your nerves.
- Motor neuron diseases. Diseases that affect these nerves, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, can result in progressively worsening nerve damage.
- Nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies of certain nutrients, including vitamins B6 and B12, may produce symptoms of nerve pain and nerve damage.
- Infectious disease. These conditions include Lyme disease, the herpes viruses, HIV and hepatitis C.
What increases my risk for neuropathy?
There are many risk factors for neuropathy, such as:
- Old age;
- Having certain medical conditions;
- Having a family member with nervous conditions;
- Having a nerve damage before;
- Playing extreme, high-impact sports;
- Having heavy labour jobs.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is neuropathy diagnosed?
Your doctor will check your symptoms and perform physical tests to see how you respond to stimulants. You might need some imaging tests (CT scan, MRI, MRI neurography) to see the extend of the nerve damage, or if any bones or muscle is trapping the nerve.
Your doctor might use a scale to describe your symptoms:
- First-degree injury: This injury is minor and can heal itself in a few weeks.
- Second-degree injury: This injury is more serious, but you also don’t need surgical intervention to treat it.
- Third-degree injury: In this type of injury, you might need grafting to repair the nerve. Recovery from this type of damage can be varied.
- Fourth-degree injury: This level of injury has damaged the nerve and the surrounding tissue, thus preventing the healing process. Surgical intervention with nerve grafting is necessary to repair the damage.
- Fifth-degree injury: The nerve is divided into two, the only way to repair a fifth-degree injury is through surgery.
How is neuropathy treated?
Depending on the severity of the damage, treatment may vary. In mild cases, rest and medications (pain relievers, tricyclic antidepressants, certain anti-seizure medications) are recommended to help the nerve heal and reduce symptoms. You might seek other therapy to help with discomfort such as acupuncture or massage therapy. If your nerve damage is caused by a medical condition, your doctor will advise you to manage the underlying condition first. For example, if your nerve damage is caused by obesity, you will need to control your weight to relieve the symptoms. You might need to:
- Regulating blood sugar levels for people with diabetes;
- Correcting nutritional deficiencies;
- Changing medications when drugs are causing nerve damage;
- Physiotherapy or surgery to address compression or trauma to nerves;
- Medication to treat autoimmune conditions.
Depending on the type and severity of the injury, your doctor will discuss different methods of nerve repair and create a treatment plan that is appropriate for you.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage neuropathy?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with neuropathy:
- Exercise lightly and regularly to promote healing process and avoid death of muscle. This will make recovery easier as well.
- Have methods to control nerve pain, such as using orthotics.
- People with neuropathy usually don’t have enough sleep due to the pain. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake to get better sleep.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: July 3, 2017 | Last Modified: July 3, 2017
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Nerve Injury. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/peripheral_nerve_surgery/conditions/nerve_injury.html. Accessed July 23, 2016.
Nerve pain and nerve damage: Symptoms and causes. http://www.webmd.boots.com/pain-management/guide/nerve-pain. Accessed July 23, 2016.
Neuropathy: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/147963.php. Accessed July 3, 2017.