What Is Neuropathy?
Disorders that arise due to peripheral nervous system damage are referred to as peripheral neuropathy or simply neuropathy. Peripheral nerves are the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to different parts of the body. These nerves innervate different organs of our body, including the skin, muscles, and the vital organs, and may arise from the brain or the spinal cord.
Damage to the peripheral nervous system may be an impairment of one nerve or a group of nerves. Moreover, damage to the nerves affects the messaging network to and from the brain and spinal cord resulting in impaired muscle functioning and sensations leading to immense pain.
Types of Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is categorized into different types based on the actual cause:
This condition is caused by damage to one nerve in the peripheral nervous system. Some of the common causes of mononeuropathy include accidents, physical injuries, and persistent pressure on one nerve.
One of the most common types of mononeuropathy is carpal tunnel syndrome, which is caused by prolonged pressure on the wrist. This condition is often seen in assembly line workers and computer programmers. This nerve damage may cause numbness and tingling sensations in the first three fingers of the hand. It may also result in muscle weakness with pain, tingling, and burning sensation in the arms.
This condition arises when many nerves in the peripheral nervous system are simultaneously affected. Certain medications, vitamin B12 deficiency, cancer, and kidney failure are some of the most common causes of polyneuropathy. People who have diabetes may develop this condition, wherein it is referred to as diabetic neuropathy.
Polyneuropathy is characterized by tingling, numbing, and loss of sensations in the arms and legs. In many cases, people with this condition often lose their ability to sense pain and temperature, thereby increasing their risk of getting burnt and having open sores due to physical injury.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a serious form of polyneuropathy wherein the body’s own immune system attacks the nerves. This condition has a sudden onset of symptoms, which also rapidly progress.
Causes of Neuropathy
A number of factors may result in peripheral neuropathy. They may be acquired, hereditary, or idiopathic.
- Acquired Neuropathy – This is caused by environmental factors, which include trauma, alcoholism, vitamin B12 deficiency, toxins, certain medications, and kidney or thyroid problems.
- Hereditary Neuropathy – This condition is transmitted from parents to their children.
- Idiopathic Neuropathy – This condition does not have an identifiable cause.
Identifying the underlying cause of neuropathy is vital for any effective treatment, which is why it is essential that you consult a specialist at the earliest for an accurate diagnosis and identification of the main cause of your current condition. Without being able to identify the main cause of neuropathy, doctors can at most, only prescribe medications to alleviate the symptoms rather than treating the main condition.
Some of the medications used to treat the symptoms of neuropathy are:
- Painkillers - There are various OTC painkillers you can use, but it is highly recommended that you consult your doctor before opting for painkillers. The long-term use of painkillers, even OTC medications can have a detrimental effect on your health. The prolonged use of certain painkillers is known to cause kidney damage while other pain medications can be addictive.
- Seizure Medications - Anti-seizure medications are often used to help you deal with crippling pain from your damaged nerves. While these medicines can work for a while and will help to alleviate some of the symptoms, they are also known to cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Speak with your doctor and find out if these drugs are for you and can help you lead a normal life.
- Capsaicin Cream - This cream is made from peppers and is used to alleviate some of the painful symptoms of neuropathy. The cream does work to help lessen the symptoms, but it may burn your skin or cause irritation when you use it for the first time. However, these side effects tend to go away with frequent usage of the cream.
- Antidepressants - They are used to treat a variety of health conditions, but they are mostly prescribed for the treatment of depression. But now, doctors have started prescribing these medications for pain, since it had been noted that antidepressants can help relieve mild to severe pain. However, these drugs come with their own range of side effects from nausea and drowsiness to decreased appetite. Also, prolonged usage of these drugs will have an impact on your overall health, so you need to consult your doctor before opting for this medication.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) - This procedure is undertaken after consultation with your doctor. It involves passing a low voltage current through the extremities of your body. The doctor may vary the range and frequency as required. This is done to stimulate various parts of your body and to help stimulate damaged nerves.
- Plasma Exchange - In this procedure, the doctor would remove your blood along with all its antibodies and replace the same with plasma with new antibodies as a way to help treat peripheral neuropathy. By doing so, it should help stave off some of the symptoms of neuropathy.
- Intravenous Immune Globulin - This therapy involves pumping your body with proteins, which will act as antibodies, thereby boosting your immune system and helping you deal with the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy effectively.
Alternative Medicine for Neuropathy
- Acupuncture - Acupuncture is highly recommended to help treat pain and other symptoms associated with neuropathy. This procedure is minimally invasive and consists of inserting needles at certain pressure points, which can help you relieve stress, pain, and anxiety. More and more doctors have started recommending acupuncture as an alternative to the usual drugs, and so far, the treatment has proven to be effective. Moreover, acupuncture can help stimulate the damaged nerves and help treat your condition.
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid - This particular acid has been used in the past to alleviate some of the painful symptoms of neuropathy. However, it comes with a few side effects such as causing your blood sugar level to shoot up and causing blisters or rashes to form on your skin. Thus, consult your doctor and find out if it is safe for you to take this drug.
- Herbal Medicine - Herbal medicines offer an alternative form of treatment when it comes to neuropathy. For example, evening primrose oil is often used to treat neuropathy, especially in people who have diabetes. There are various herbal alternatives you can use to help alleviate the pain and irritation caused by neuropathy and there are also a few herbal medications that can help improve your overall condition. Make sure that you keep your doctor informed regarding the various medications you are taking at the moment, including herbal medicines. However, take note that you may be highly sensitive to some of the herbal medicines, in which case you need to discontinue taking it right away.
- Amino Acids - Certain amino acids are used to treat neuropathy, especially in individuals with diabetes. However, it can cause side effects, which include nausea and vomiting.
With these treatment options, you can now better manage your condition, alleviate your symptoms, and treat the underlying cause as well. Neuropathy can be a lifelong condition, one that will take a lot of effort on your part to adjust. You may be required to make sudden lifestyle changes, move toward a more nourishing and nutrient-rich diet and even start exercising. Make sure that you include grains and broccoli as part of your regular diet. These healthy changes should help you manage your neuropathy better.
Neuropathy can be treated today with the right medications as long as the underlying cause is identified.