Neuropathy is a nerve issue typically relating to the peripheral nerves. It can be caused by a variety of underlying medical conditions. In some cases, it can occur with seemingly no cause, termed “idiopathic” neuropathy.
Some key points to note about neuropathy:
- People with diabetes are more susceptible to neuropathy. In fact, a part of diabetes care includes regular testing for neuropathy.
- There are three types of nerves that can be affected: motor nerves, autonomic nerves, and sensory nerves.
- In addition to diabetes, the following can all lead to neuropathy: physical trauma, infection, repeated injuries, metabolic complications, drugs, and metabolic problems can all lead to neuropathy.
- In cases where the neuropathy is caused from a toxin, removing exposure to the toxin can prevent the condition from progressing and causing further nerve damage.
The type of symptoms experienced with neuropathy can also vary greatly, depending on the type of nerves that are being affected:
- Motor nerves – These types of nerves control power and movement. This type of neuropathy typically causes weakness in the hands, the feet, or both.
- Autonomic nerves – These nerves control various systems of the body, including the bladder and gut. This type of neuropathy typically causes changes in the heart rate, sweating, and blood pressure.
- Sensory nerves – These nerves are the ones in charge of sensations in and on the body. This neuropathy can cause sensations of tingling, numbness, weakness, or even pain in the hands and feet.
There are various conditions that can lead to neuropathy. While roughly 30% of neuropathy conditions are from unknown causes, the rest are typically attributed to:
- Diabetes– This is the most common cause of neuropathy. The reason being is that high blood-sugar damages nerves, so poorly controlled diabetes tends to damage the nerves.
- Chronic liver disease
- Connective tissue diseases – Rheumatoid arthritis and several other diseases that affect connective tissues can cause neuropathy.
- Cancers – Some cancers can lead to neuropathy, such as multiple myeloma and lymphoma.
- Vitamin deficiencies – Deficiencies in vitamins folate and B-12.
- Toxins – Things such as insecticides or various solvents.
- Drugs – Chemotherapy and HIV medication can cause damage to the peripheral nerves.
- Excess alcohol consumption – Repeated high levels of blood alcohol can cause nerve damage.
- Certain inflammatory issues – Examples include coeliac disease and sarcoidosis.
- Chronic kidney disease – The kidneys are responsible for balancing various chemicals in the body, including salt. Imbalances due to the kidneys not functioning properly can lead to peripheral neuropathy.
Diagnosis of neuropathy typically includes questions pertaining to the specific symptoms, general health and medical conditions, family history, medications, alcohol consumption, and the sexual history of the patient. Next is an examination, nerve conduction studies, electromyography, and a skin or nerve biopsy.
If neuropathy is diagnosed, the first steps of treatment include:
- Treating the root cause of the condition (if one is found).
- Getting control of the symptoms resulting from the neuropathy.
- Prevent it from progressing any further.
In some cases, treating the root cause can be a fairly simple task, such as removing toxic causes from the patient’s environment or changing medications. In cases where the cause is unknown or more difficult to treat, various medications are available to treat the pain associated with neuropathy. The biggest key, however, is trying to find out a cause and eliminate the cause. So, if you think you or someone you know might have neuropathy, be sure to have them checked by their doctor as soon as possible to prevent the condition from progressing.