When Nerves Hurt: Part III

The peripheral nervous system found throughout the body works closely with the brain and spinal cord to send and receive messages. The system is responsible for telling the brain that ice is cold or a knife is sharp and the brain in return sends signals to tell the peripheral nervous system to activate muscles. When this connection is failing or there is damage to the peripheral nerves, these signals are often increased or decreased, causing anything from pain to paralysis. Common symptoms include odd sensations such as pain with regular touch, numbness, tingling, cold, poor muscle control, loss of gland production of oil or sweat and gastrointestinal problems (autonomic nerve damage), and may even cause kidney disease or loss of sight. 20 million Americans are affected by peripheral neuropathy and early signs such as changes in sensation or vision should be taken seriously and a doctor’s appointment should be made.

How is peripheral neuropathy addressed:

  • Many causes of peripheral neuropathy exist including diabetes, alcohol use, bacterial or viral illness, toxin exposure, genetics, injury and more
  • The first step is to identify the cause and try to correct the underlying culprit. An example would be improving diet and increasing exercise in diabetes to lower glucose and prevent progression of symptoms.
  • More extensive testing such as electromyography or nerve conduction studies may reveal a more central or more peripheral cause
  • Creams or topical medications can calm the nerves by overwhelming them
  • Oral medications can improve symptoms and may also include supplements such as alpha lipoic acid
  • Bracing to keep the foot from dropping when the muscles are involved
  • With loss of fine touch, special shoes, daily foot checks, yearly foot exams by a doctor, and the use of shoes around the house can prevent new wounds
  • Physical therapy or surgery may help control nerve pain
  • Avoidance of the cause of the neuropathy may prevent progression

This disorder is not easy to treat and it may require multiple attempts at treatment before some relief is obtained. They may also refer you to a pain specialist or neurologist for specific therapy. Remember to be patient with yourself, your body and your doctor so that the right treatment can be found for you.

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