It is estimated that over 20 million individuals live with neuropathy in the United States alone. And yet many still live undiagnosed as symptoms often overlap with other medical conditions and are often left untreated until they present later when the symptoms worsen.
Neuropathy in a Nutshell
What is neuropathy?
Neuropathy is a progressive disease in the PNS (peripheral nervous system), a section of the nervous system that governs three main categories of nerves: motor nerves, sensory nerves, and autonomic nerves. These nerves serve as a communication network within the body, regulating everything from touch to muscle movement and breathing.
When working at its optimal level, the peripheral nervous system can recognize different signals within the body and carry them out to muscles, blood vessels, etc., without a hitch.
When these nerve pathways are interrupted or do not function, this creates a breakdown of communication leading to recognizable and often painful symptoms of neuropathy in the patient.
Am I at risk of developing neuropathy?
Neuropathy is an age-related degenerative disease that typically affects individuals over the age of 50. Nerve damage that develops into neuropathy can be caused by a variety of factors, such as previous medical conditions, exposure to toxins or trauma, or prolonged nutritional deficiency.
Common Causes of Neuropathy
Currently, diabetes is the leading cause of neuropathy in the United States. An estimated 70% of individuals living with diabetes will eventually develop neuropathy. The progression of the disease will range from mild to severe, depending on the individual.
For more on diabetic neuropathy, click here.
Other common causes of neuropathy include:
- Autoimmune disease
- Vascular disease
- Chronic hormonal imbalance
- Benign cancer and/or tumors
- Radiation therapy
- Virus and infection (HIV, Lyme disease, Shingles)
- High blood pressure
- Thyroid disease
- Nicotine and caffeine use
The causes of neuropathy are numerous and, for many, unforeseeable and unpreventable. A proper diagnosis is required to evaluate each unique situation.
Signs and Symptoms of Neuropathy Progression
Numbness, tingling, pain, and more…
Symptoms of Neuropathy can develop and progress within days, weeks, or months. The severity varies from patient to patient.
Early signs of breakdown in nerve tissue can include symptoms like difficulty walking, recognizing temperature to touch, or changes/distortion of sensation. It is important to seek diagnosis at the earliest signs of neuropathy progression.
What are the different types of nerve damage?
While it is impossible to conclude which areas of the peripheral nervous system are affected by neuropathy without a diagnosis, many symptoms are connected to one or more of the following three categories:
a) Motor Nerve Damage
Symptoms: Muscle weakness, instability & more
Many individuals who suffer from motor nerve damage report feelings of instability when walking, muscle weakness, and/or uncontrollable muscle twitches. These twitches can occur in the hands and feet or upper and lower limbs. These symptoms are due to nerve damage occurring in the motor cells, which govern the control of movement.
b) Sensory Nerve Damage
Symptoms: Numbness, pain, tingling & more
Individuals suffering from sensory nerve damage may experience numbness in the hands and feet and a loss of ability to distinguish between temperatures. Some patients also report phantom sensations, such as textures like socks and gloves being on the skin without them being present. Individuals experiencing sensory nerve damage can also experience an extreme increase in sensitivity to touch and temperatures to the point of pain. Some commonly describe this painful sensation as “an ice pick to the bone.”
This type of nerve damage occurs in the nerves that relay sensory information, such as touch, temperature, pressure, and more.
c) Autonomic Nerve Damage
Symptoms: Difficulty breathing, swallowing, and more
An individual suffering from autonomic nerve damage may experience increased difficulty breathing normally, swallowing food, or emptying their bladder (and occasionally their bowels). This is due to damage occurring in the nerves responsible for regulating uncontrolled or unconscious functions that many of us do not give a second thought to in day-to-day life.
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the above symptoms, our team at Neurology Office encourages you to begin evaluation as soon as possible.
Prevention and Treatment
Will it get worse, and how can I treat this disease?
Unfortunately, the nature of neuropathy is that it is a very unpredictable disease. The rate and amount of nerve degeneration is hard to predict and may worsen over time when left untreated. However, the silver lining is that dedicated research is underway to discover more about the nature of neuropathy and how future treatments will change how individuals live with this disease.
We know that neuropathy can develop due to various factors, such as underlying medical conditions, genetic predisposition, and lifestyle factors. The best way to prevent further damage is to seek a thorough diagnosis at the earliest signs of nerve decline. This will help your neurological team get the best start to finding a solution for you.
Following a diagnosis, your team will be able to tailor a wellness plan for you. This may include lifestyle changes, physical therapy, medications, motor assistant technology, nerve stimulation, and surgery.
A message from Dr. Kandel
“Early on in my career, there was very little that could be done to treat neuropathy. Many neurologists didn’t even try. But over the last 35 years, many new treatment options have been discovered. Options that have been reviewed by medical science and proven to be of benefit… Immune modulation, medications, hyperbaric oxygen, and, yes, lifestyle changes. But everything starts with the correct diagnosis!
So, if you or a loved one suffers from burning, painful limbs, or other signs of neuropathy, speak to your physician. Or better yet, contact a neurology specialist who is experienced in treating neuropathy…the only thing you must lose is your pain!”
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“To Cure Sometimes, To Heal Often, To Comfort Always”
Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates
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