Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that develops when there has been impairment / injury to the peripheral nerves, consequentially causing weakness, tingling numbness and pain, in the hands and feet. Other areas of the body may get afflicted as well.
It is the job of the peripheral nervous to convey signals and messages from the brain and spinal cord to the other parts of the body.
Each nerve in the peripheral system has a precise and definite function to carry out; the signs and symptoms depend upon the type of nerves that have been afflicted. Clinical manifestations are:
- Slow, insidious commencement of numbness and tingling in the feet or hands, which radiates upwards to the legs and arms.
- Throbbing or burning pains.
- Sensitivity to touch.
- Poor coordination.
- Intolerance to heat.
- Weakness of the muscles.
- Bowel, bladder or digestive disorders.
- Changes in blood pressure, causing giddiness.
What Are The Causes Of Peripheral Neuropathy?
Causes of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Alcoholism: An excessive intake of alcohol and vitamin deficiencies go hand in hand; especially vitamin B complex.
- Autoimmune disorder: Lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy and necrotizing vasculitis.
- Diabetes mellitus: Those who have diabetes develop neuropathy.
- Toxins: Toxic substances include heavy metals or chemicals.
- Infections: Viral or bacterial infections, including shingles, hepatitis, Epstein-Barr virus, leprosy, and HIV.
- Trauma to the nerve or pressure on it: Injury as from accidents and falls or sports trauma, can damage peripheral nerves.
- Tumors: Benign or malignant tumor masses put pressure on the nerves and cause neuropathy.
- Vitamin deficiency: A deficiency of vitamins B 1, B 6, B 12, E and niacin can cause neuropathy; given that they are very vital to nerve health.
Treatment Options For Peripheral Neuropathy
The goal of the treatment is to manage the condition that is triggering the neuropathy and to allay the symptoms. The treatment regimen comprises of:
- Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help relieve mild symptoms. In severe cases your doctor will prescribe medications containing opioids, however, these can cause a very strong level of dependence on them, and hence, they are prescribed only after all other treatment options are unsuccessful.
- Anti-seizure drugs: Help assuage nerve pain.
- Topical treatments: Capsaicin cream and lidocaine patches proffer relief from the burning, throbbing pains.
- Anti-depressants: Certain tricyclic antidepressants have been found to allay pain by impeding the chemical processes in the brain and spinal cord which make you feel pain.
- Physical therapy: Physiotherapy helps deal with muscle weakness, pain as well as range of movement successfully. You may also be given a cane, braces, a walker, or a wheelchair.
- Thin needles are inserted into a range of specific points on the body; and research shows that this therapy helps decrease peripheral neuropathy symptoms to some extent. It is important that you remember that you will require several sessions before you observe amelioration.
- Trans-cutaneous electrical nerve stimulation: Electrodes are placed on the skin; they send a gentle electric current. The treatment should be done for half an hour everyday for 1 to 2 months.
- Alpha-lipoic acid: This has been used as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy for years. Confer with your health care provider and understand if it will help you.
- Amino acids: Amino acids, like – acetyl-L-carnitine, help those who have had chemotherapy and those diagnosed with diabetes.
- If the neuropathy has been set off by pressure on the nerves, such as from tumor masses, you need surgical intervention to manage the case.