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Neuropathy - Enduring one of the most common neurological conditions

Updated on July 30, 2013

Overview of peripheral neuropathy

Our nervous system is comprised of two parts The central nervous system integrates the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is made up of the rest of the parts of the nervous system which are situated outside the central nervous system. There are three core nerves that make up the peripheral nervous system. These are:

  • Automatic nerves assist in regulating the involuntary operations of the vital organs like regulation of blood pressure, bladder function and control of sweat.
  • Motor nerves manage the movement of the muscles
  • Sensory nerves regulate sensations like that of pain and changes in temperature

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy

The indicating signs of peripheral neuropathy primarily become discernible in the extremities such as feet, hands and toes. However, symptoms can differ according to the type of neuropathy that has been developed. Some of the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy when motor and sensory nerves are affected are:

  • Pins and needles sensations in the affected areas especially in the feet and hands
  • Loss of sensation in the feet
  • Tingling, burning and stabbing sensations in the hands and feet
  • Sharp, shooting electrifying pain which exacerbates at nighttime
  • Weakness of the muscles
  • Muscle atrophy and paralysis
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch

When the automatic nerves become impaired, this condition is referred to as automatic neuropathy, and the symptoms which become evident are:

  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Vomiting, nausea
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Profuse or reduced sweating
  • Fluctuating heartbeat
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Bladder problems like inability to completely empty the bladder and urinary incontinence
  • he body becomes incapable to identify the warning signs of low blood pressure which can cause symptoms like lightheadedness and fainting

Sometimes the impairment that is caused by peripheral neuropathy is restricted to a single nerve or a bundle of nerves and this type of neuropathy is referred to as mononeuropathy. The symptoms that are perceptible are double vision, aching in the foot, shin, eye or chest and paralysis on one side of the face (Bell’s palsy).

Causes of peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is the most common and frequent complication of diabetes. It has been estimated that half of all the individuals who have endured diabetes for more then 25 years are more inclined to develop peripheral neuropathy because uncontrollably elevated blood glucose levels can instigate certain biological alterations that result in the nerves breaking down and high blood glucose also inflicts harm on the blood vessels that supply oxygen and other nutrients to the nerves. Some of the other causative factors which increase the probability of developing peripheral neuropathy are:

  1. Smoking and alcohol abuse
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Crossing the threshold of 40 years
  4. Poor glycemic control
  5. Suffering from other medical conditions like chronic liver and kidney disease, nutritional deficiencies, Lyme disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome, diphtheria
  6. exposure to toxins and poisonous chemicals

Treating peripheral neuropathy

The goal of the treatment plan is to concentrate and attend to the underlying causative factor and then treat the symptoms of neuropathy. Peripheral nerves are capable of regenerating themselves if the nerve cell itself has not been completely destroyed. Symptoms can be managed if the causative factors are handled and controlled and this can also prevent further impairment of nerves. Usually, embracing healthy lifestyle habits like maintenance of optimal weight, precluding exposure to harmful toxins, and alcohol cessation can significantly diminish the physical and emotional adverse effects of peripheral neuropathy. Smoking cessation is very important since alcohol abuse can aggravate neuropathy condition by constricting the blood vessels that transport nutrients to the nerves. Engaging in exercise can reduce the muscle stiffness and improve endurance, strength and stamina and can also avert muscle atrophy. Adopting healthy dietary strategies can improve the digestive and gastrointestinal function. Self care like taking extra care of the feet and careful and immediate wound treatment can alleviate some peripheral neuropathy symptoms and decrease the risk of lower limb amputation. Strictly keeping the blood glucose levels under control has been shown to improve the neuropathy signs and to prevent further nerve damage. In addition to all this, prescription medications are also prescribed to alleviate the pain and discomfort. Sometimes these medications are prescribed in combination with each other for best results. Some of the medications which are recommended are:

Pain relievers

For mild throbbing, over the counter medications like ibuprofen and paracetamol are effective. However, these medications are unable to provide comfort if the symptoms are consistent and severe. For treating this, stronger prescription based painkillers are recommended like opiates.

Anti-seizure medications

Medications that are prescribed for treating epilepsy also recommended for treating nerve pain and these include gabapentin, pregabalin, carbamazepine, phenytoin and topiramate.


Tricyclic antidepressants


These though often prescribed for treating depression have shown their efficacy in treating nerve pain. Antidepressants like amitriptyline and nortriptyline are also beneficial in reducing the intensity of the pain by disrupting the chemical processes in the brain which are responsible for feeling the sensations of pain.

Topical medications

Capsaicin cream contains a naturally occurring compound which is usually found in hot peppers and has been proven to be beneficial in reducing the pain. However, the patient needs to get used to the hot feeling that the cream generates before experiencing relief from pain. Lidocaine patch is a topical anesthetic which is applied where the pain is most severely felt.

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