Peripheral neuropathy is characterized by damage to the peripheral nerves that are found outside of the brain and spinal cord. This damage often causes weakness, numbness, and pain. These symptoms are most frequently found in your hands and feet, but can also affect other areas of your body, too.
The role of your peripheral nervous system is to send information from your brain and spinal cord, which make up your central nervous system, to the rest of your body. These nerves also send sensory information to your central nervous system.
Neuropathy can be caused by traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems, genetic causes, as well as exposure to certain toxins. But the most common cause is diabetes.
Those who suffer from this condition often describe their pain as stabbing, burning, or tingling. In some cases, symptoms improve over time, especially if the cause is a treatable condition. There are also medications that can be prescribed to reduce the pain and discomfort associated with peripheral neuropathy.
What Are The Symptoms: What Does Neuropathy Pain Feel Like?
Each nerve in your peripheral system has a unique function, so your symptoms depend on the type of nerves that are affected, if that makes sense? To better understand, let’s break the types of nerves:
Sensory nerves: these receive sensations like temperature, pain, vibration, or touch.
Motor nerves: these control muscle movement
Autonomic nerves: these control functions like your blood pressure, heart rate, bladder function, and digestion
So what are some of the signs and symptoms? They commonly include the following:
Slow onset of numbness, tingling or pricking in your hands and feet, which may eventually spread to your arms and legs
Sharp, stabbing, or throbbing pain
Extreme touch sensitivity
Experiencing pain during simple activities like putting on sneakers or covering up with a blanket
Lack of coordination and/or falling
A feeling of wearing socks or gloves when you’re not
Paralysis in the case of affected motor nerves
When autonomic nerves are affected, the common signs and symptoms include the following:
Inability to tolerate heat
Excessive sweating or an inability to sweat
Issues with your bowel, bladder, or digestive system
Lightheadedness or dizziness caused by changes in blood pressure
There are different classifications of neuropathy:
Mononeuropathy: when it affects just one nerve, the most common example of this is carpal tunnel syndrome
Multiple mononeuropathy: affecting two or more nerves in different areas
Polyneuropathy: affecting many nerves, this is the most common form of neuropathy
When Should You Go See Your Doctor?
You should seek medical care right away if you notice any unusual tingling, weakness, or pain in your body, particularly in your hands and feet. The best way to control your symptoms is with early detection and early diagnosis. By catching it early and controlling your symptoms, you can prevent further damage to your nerves.
What Causes This Condition?
There is not a single cause that can be pinpointed for peripheral neuropathy, as it can be caused by a number of conditions. Some of the health condition that can cause it include:
Autoimmune disorders: Diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, vasculitis, and more.
- Diabetes: Over half of the people who develop diabetes suffer from some type of neuropathy.
- Infections: Both bacterial and viral infections can cause this condition. Things like Lyme disease, shingles, hepatitis B and C, Epstein-Barr virus, leprosy, diphtheria, and HIV.
- Genetic or hereditary conditions: Things like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease can cause a genetic-related type of neuropathy.
- Tumors: Both cancerous and noncancerous tumors can develop and press on nerves in your body. Additionally, polyneuropathy can happen as a result of some cancers related to your body’s immune response. This is an example of a degenerative disorder called paraneoplastic syndrome.
Bone marrow disorders: This can include an abnormal protein in the blood (monoclonal gammopathies), bone cancer (myeloma), lymphoma, and amyloidosis, an extremely rare disease.
Additional diseases: Other diseases that can cause this include kidney disease, liver disease, connective tissue disease, and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
Additional Causes Can Include The Following:
- Alcoholism: Poor dietary choices that are typical among people with alcoholism can lead to vitamin deficiencies that can wreak havoc on your body.
- Exposure to toxins: Exposure to toxic substances can include industrial-strength chemicals and heavy metals like lead and mercury.
- Certain Medications: Some medications, particularly those used to treat cancer, have been linked to neuropathy pain.
- Trauma: Traumas or pressure on the nerve, such as that created from motor vehicle accidents, falls or sports injuries, can sever or damage your nerves. Nerve pressure, on the other hand, can result from having a cast or using crutches after an injury or may be caused by repetitive motions like typing on your keyboard.
- Vitamin Deficiencies: If you’re deficient in vitamins, including B-1, B-12, Vitamin E, and niacin, you can develop this condition. These vitamins are crucial to your nerve health.
Who’s At Risk?
Those who are at the highest risk of developing this condition and pain include, but are not limited to the following:
Diabetics, particularly if your sugar levels are not controlled properly
Those who are vitamin deficient, especially B vitamins
Having an Infection like Lyme disease, shingles, hepatitis B and C, Epstein-Barr virus, or HIV
Those who have an autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
Those with Kidney, liver, and thyroid disorders
Those exposed to dangerous chemicals or toxins
Those who perform repetitive motions like those required to perform certain jobs
Those who have a family history of neuropathy pain
What Are the Possible Complications?
Some of the most common peripheral neuropathy complications can include the following:
- Skin trauma or burns: You may stop feeling temperature changes or pain in certain areas of your body that have gone numb, leaving yourself susceptible to injury. If you can’t feel sensations, you’re at high risk for serious injury.
Infections: When your hands and feet lack sensations, it can be easy to become injured and not know it. It’s important to check the numb areas for injury often and be sure to treat it right away to avoid infections. This is especially important for those with diabetes.
Falls: With weakness and loss of stability, you may be more prone to falling and injuring your body.
How to Prevent Neuropathy Pain
The best way to prevent and control neuropathy pain is to manage your underlying conditions that are causing it in the first place. To do this, it’s vital that you manage the medical conditions that put you at risk. The most common conditions include diabetes, alcoholism, and rheumatoid arthritis.
You can also prevent this type of pain by making healthy dietary and lifestyle choices. The following habits can help support your nerve health:
- Consume a diet that’s rich in healthy nutrients. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy protein as a way to keep your nerves and overall body healthy. You can protect your body from a vitamin B-12 deficiency by eating plenty of meats, fish, eggs, dairy that’s low in fat. Fortified cereals are also a good source of vitamin B-12. You can also speak with your doctor about starting a B-12 supplement.
- Get regular exercise, aiming for at least 30 minutes per day of mild to moderate exercise. Things like walking, jogging, swimming, biking, and strength training are all good options.
- Avoid things that may cause nerve damage like repetitive motions, being in cramped positions that place pressure on your nerves, and exposing yourself to toxic materials.