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Overview of the different types of Neuropathy

Updated on July 29, 2013

What is Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a broad term incorporating all kinds of conditions related to nerve damage. Neuropathy means ‘nerve pain’ and there are many different types of nerve pain, each with its own signs and symptoms. Although the signs and symptoms of each neuropathy tend to overlap each other, consultation with a doctor is imperative for accurate diagnosis.

There are mainly four different types of neuropathy. These are:

  1. Peripheral neuropathy:
  2. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy
  3. Alcoholic neuropathy
  4. Autonomic neuropathy
  5. Proximal neuropathy
  6. Focal neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy

There are more than 100 different types of peripheral neuropathies each having its own distinct characteristics and symptoms. Research shows that 30% of the peripheral neuropathy sufferers are also very likely to develop diabetic neuropathy.

The peripheral nervous system comprises of the peripheral nerves which interline the whole body and enable the exchange of data from the brain and the spinal cord to the rest of the body. Any damage in between these lines can create disturbance and cause severe malfunction. The pain messages are deciphered incorrectly by the brain and mild pains are decoded into amplified pain waves. This causes the excruciating and pins and needles like neuropathy pain in the sufferer.

Peripheral neuropathy usually affects the nerves in the regions that lie on the extremities such as toes, legs, hands, arms, feet etc. The main symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are burning, tingling and numbing sensation in the hands and feet. Treatment includes taking medications and vitamin supplements, exercising and eating healthy.

Diabetic neuropathy

This is usually an extension of peripheral neuropathy. Diabetics suffering from peripheral neuropathy are at a major chance of developing diabetic peripheral neuropathy. When the blood sugar levels are climbing to dangerous levels, there is a high chance of nerve damage due to uncontrolled sugar levels in the blood. This causes diabetic peripheral neuropathy and the disease can progress to a debilitating stage if treatment is not sought or if proper measures are not taken to control diabetes.

Some common symptoms of diabetic neuropathy are

Tingling and burning in the hands and feet, foot ulcers and infections. It is of the utmost importance to seek immediate medical care if you witness any sores, wounds or ulcers on your feet if you are a diabetic neuropathy patient.

Treatment includes taking care of your blood sugar levels, inspecting your feet for any signs of early wounds or blisters, massaging feet daily and having regular checkups.

Alcoholic neuropathy

Alcohol abuse is also directly linked to peripheral neuropathy. Too much alcohol is toxic to the nerves and causes nerve damage or compression. Symptoms include: tingling and burning in the hands and feet, digestive disorders, pain, muscle cramps etc. Treatment includes limiting alcohol consumption, increasing vitamin supplements and taking medications to relieve the pain.

Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic nerves refer to the nerves that control our biological functions which are also the involuntary functions of the body. We have no physical control over these tasks. These are breathing, digestion, circulation, sweating etc. When the autonomic nerves of the body are damaged they can cause malfunction at the site of the damage and the function which they are controlling. The symptoms will vary according to the length and the location of the damage.

Common symptoms include abnormal breathing rate, profuse or very light sweating, digestive disorders, low or very high blood pressure, sexual problems and burning and tingling in the arms and legs.

Treatment includes taking medications for the related complaint. Taking vitamin B supplements can also help in reducing the nerve damage and restoring some of the previous nerve function.

Proximal neuropathy

Also known as proximal diabetic neuropathy, the condition affects the lower part of the body i.e. the hips, buttocks, thighs, legs and feet. This type of neuropathy usually strikes on only one side of the body but there is no exception. Proximal neuropathy patients can suffer from this type of neuropathy pain on both the sides of the body. Symptoms involve muscle cramps and muscle wasting, loss of balance and coordinated movements, intense weight loss, immobility and excruciating pain especially at nighttime.

Treatment involves inculcating healthy habits in your life such as abstinence from alcohol and smoking, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, taking pain medications and boosting your stamina through physical therapy.

Focal neuropathy

Uncommon and unusual in nature, focal neuropathy is associated with intense pain and discomfort. It is also called mononeuropathy as it only affects one single nerve and the symptoms arise on only one side of the body such as left leg or right leg, left eye or right eye etc. it is caused by nerve entrapment and it can cause symptoms such as Bell’s palsy, shingles, pain in one eye and inability to move or open the affected eye, pain around a wrist or foot etc.

Treatment includes taking antidepressants, opioids, and painkillers, reducing cigarette smoking and alcohol and eating a well balanced and healthy diet. Moreover integrating exercise in the management plan can bring about positive outcomes.

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