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Neuropathy: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About neuropathy

Neuropathy is a group of disorders that occur when nerves of the peripheral nervous system (part of the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord) are damaged. This condition is also known as ‘peripheral neuropathy’ and can result from a number of causes.

The peripheral nervous system consists of nerve cells – each such nerve cell is made up of three parts: the cell body, the axons, and the dendrites (nerve/muscle junctions). Any part of the nerve may be affected by this condition, but most commonly, the axons get damaged.

Neuropathy: Incidence, age and sex

Neuropathy is a commonly occurring disorder in the general population with involvement of over half of the overall population of diabetic patients.

Signs and symptoms of neuropathy: Diagnosis

Neuropathy may affect the nerves that control muscle movement, known as motor nerves, and also those that detect sensations of touch or pain, known as sensory nerves. In some cases, there may be autonomic neuropathy which may affect the internal organs, such as the heart, the blood vessels, the bladder, or the intestines.

Pain from peripheral neuropathy is often described as a tingling or burning sensation that usually improves with time.

Neuropathy symptoms depend on several factors like the location of the affected nerves and the type of nerves affected (motor, sensory, autonomic). Some neuropathies suddenly arise while others are evident gradually over the course of months and years.

Causes and prevention of neuropathy

Some suggested causes of neuropathy are poor nutrition, diabetes, and trauma. About 30% of neuropathy cases are considered to be due to unknown causes. Another 30% of neuropathies are generally due to diabetes. In fact, about 50% of people with diabetes develop neuropathy at some point in life, diabetic neuropathy being a major complication of poorly treated diabetes.

The remaining cases of neuropathy, called acquired neuropathies, have several possible causes, including: trauma or pressure on nerves, nutritional deficiencies like lack of vitamin B, alcohol consumption, certain autoimmune diseases, and tumours. Exposure to toxins such as those from heavy metals, certain medications, and cancer treatment also are known to cause neuropathy.

Neuropathy: Complications

If left untreated, there may be permanent loss of nerve function, tissue damage, and muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass).

Neuropathy: Treatment

It is important to identify the cause of neuropathy, in order to treat it effectively. The first step is, therefore, to detect the cause. Cause like nutritional deficiencies can be corrected; diseases like diabetes can be controlled, although control may not reverse already established neuropathy. Neuropathies that are associated with immune diseases may improve with treatment of the autoimmune disease, while those caused by nerve entrapment can be treated by physical therapy, injections or surgery. The symptoms can be controlled with medications such as analgesics, tricyclic antidepressants, and anti-convulsant medications.