What is neuropathy?

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Neuropathy is a disease that directly affects the body’s peripheral nerves. Neuropathy affects around 2.4% of the population with an 8% of them being older than 551. Any nerve in your body can be affected by this disease. Depending on the affected area, there will be a more specific classification of which type of neuropathy you suffer from.

Types of Neuropathy

The three most affected peripheral nerves from neuropathy are2:

  • Sensory nerves – They control sensation and, when affected, can cause
    • tingling,
    • pain,
    • numbness, and
    • weakness in the feet and hands.
  • Motor nerves – They allow movement. When affected, they can cause weakness in the feet and hands.
  • Autonomic nerves – They control the systems of the body (stomach, bladder, etc). When affected, changes in heart rate and blood pressure may occur.

Mononeuropathy only affects a single nerve. Examples of areas it affects are1:

  • Ulnar neuropathy (elbow)
  • Radial neuropathy (arm)
  • Peroneal neuropathy (knee)
  • Femoral neuropathy (thigh)
  • Cervical neuropathy (neck)

Causes of Neuropathy

Approximately 30% of neuropathy cases are of an unknown cause2. Neuropathy is either inherited at birth or acquired later in life. One of the most common inherited forms is the neurological disorder of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. It affects about 1 in 2,500 people in the US1. Doctors suggest that some of the causes of neuropathy relate to systemic diseases, physical trauma, infectious diseases, and autoimmune disorders1. Nerve damage can be caused by the following3:

  • Diabetes
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Autoimmune neuropathy
  • Infections
  • Alcohol
  • Genetic or inherited disorders
  • Amyloidosis
  • Trauma, and
  • Tumors

Symptoms of Neuropathy1

  • Muscle weakness, pain, and cramping
  • Uncontrolled muscle twitching
  • Muscle mass loss
  • Bone degeneration
  • Changes to the skin, hair, and nails
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Heightened sensitivity to pain or touch, or the inability to feel pain

Treatment for Neuropathy

The majority of treatments for neuropathy focus on controlling the symptoms. Treatments vary depending on the type of neuropathy that is affecting you and the symptoms you suffer from. Treatment options include3:

  • Medication – Often consists of typical pain medications, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opioids.
  • Physical Therapy – Focuses on regaining muscle strength and joint mobility.
  • Diet – Obtaining all required vitamins for strong, healthy nerves.
  • Home Treatment – Massages, washing of affected areas, stretching.

Most of the time, treatment helps reduce the pain of neuropathy. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. Currently, nerve stimulation or magnetic nerve stimulations are being studied as possible future treatment3.

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1- Bennington-Castro, J. (2014, September 24). What Is Neuropathy? Retrieved March 22, 2017, from http://www.everydayhealth.com/neuropathy/guide/

2- Helen, D. (n.d.). Neuropathy: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments. Retrieved March 22, 2017, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/147963.php

3- Neuropathy: What Is Neuropathy? Definition & Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2017, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/neuropathy/article_em.htm

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