Neuropathy is a term for nerve damage that can stem from a broad range of conditions, such as diabetes, physical injuries, autoimmune disorders, and more. Symptoms of neuropathy vary, but are often described as tingling, loss of sensation, muscle weakness or cramps, and burning or stabbing. Following diagnosis, neuropathy symptoms and pain can be managed through treatment and lifestyle changes, as well as surgery, medication, or physical therapy.
To learn more about diagnosing, managing, and treating neuropathy, call Colorado Springs Neurological Associates at 719-473-3272 or fill out an online form to schedule an appointment today.
What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy, often called peripheral neuropathy, is nerve damage outside of the brain and spinal cord that can cause numbness, pain, and weakness in areas of the body. Neuropathy isn’t a single condition, but rather a term for many conditions that involve damage to the nervous system.
Damage to one nerve is called mononeuropathy. Damage to multiple nerves, which is common, is called polyneuropathy.
Signs and symptoms of neuropathy
Each nerve in the peripheral system has a specific function. A nerve can fall into one of three categories:
- Motor nerves that control the conscious movement of muscles, such as those used for walking or talking
- Sensory nerves that receive sensation and transmit information, such as touch, pain, or temperature
- Autonomic nerves that control or regulation unconscious activities, such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, or blood pressure
Symptoms of neuropathy depend on the type of nerves affected. Symptoms of motor nerve damage may include muscle weakness, cramps, twitching, or muscle shrinking.
Symptoms of sensory nerve damage depend on the function of the nerve, but generally, the ability to feel sensation may be affected. Loss of coordination, numbness, severe pain from light touch, and feeling as if you’re wearing socks or gloves when you’re not are common symptoms.
Symptoms of autonomic nerve damage may include excess sweating, heat intolerance, digestive problems, or changes in blood pressure.
What Causes Neuropathy?
Most cases of neuropathy are acquired, meaning it is not present from the beginning of life. Acquired neuropathies can either result from another condition or disorder (symptomatic) or have no known cause (idiopathic). Genetic cases of neuropathy are rare.
Risks and causes of neuropathy
Because high blood sugar levels can damage nerves over a long period of time, diabetes is one of the most common causes of neuropathy. Up to 70% of people with diabetes experience mild to severe forms of nerve damage that can cause numb, tingling, or burning sensations.
Guillain-Barre syndrome, which occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves in the body, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren’s syndrome can cause neuropathic pain.
Viruses such as Lyme disease, West Nile, shingles, herpes simplex, and HIV can attack nerve tissues and cause extensive damage as well as neuropathic pain.
Cancers and benign tumors
Tumors can develop on or press on nerve fibers, causing pain. The body’s immune response to some cancers can also cause neuropathy. Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy, may also cause neuropathy.
Physical trauma from sports, falls, motor vehicle accidents, or medical procedures are the most common cause of acquired single-nerve injury. A nerve can be crushed, compressed, detached, or stretched in these incidents.
Hormonal imbalances, nutritional or vitamin imbalances, exposure to poisons, medications, and long-term heavy alcohol use can also cause neuropathy.
Neuropathy Treatment Options
Because symptoms and underlying conditions can vary, diagnosing neuropathy can be difficult.
Diagnosis of neuropathy often includes:
- Medical history. Your healthcare provider will ask about any symptoms, your health history, and your family health history.
- Physical exams. Blood tests may be used to check for diabetes, toxins, vitamin deficiencies, or genetic disorders. Skin biopsies can help distinguish certain nerve disorders. Other body fluids may be tested for abnormal proteins or immune cells.
- Neurological exams. Neurological exams will test the cause of neuropathy, type of nerve affected, and extent of damage. Electromyography, for example, checks muscle activity and function. A nerve biopsy may be recommended to look at a nerve under a microscope.
Treating the cause of neuropathy, if the cause is known, can help improve your symptoms. Managing medical conditions that put you at risk for neuropathy, like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, can keep nerves healthy and prevent neuropathy.
Making lifestyle changes such as controlling blood sugar, taking vitamin supplements, exercising regularly, or eating a healthy diet can support nerve health. Avoiding repetitive motions and finding support with hand or foot braces may help. In some cases, medication, physical therapy, and surgery is needed.
Learn more about neuropathy treatments at CSNA
If you are experiencing symptoms of neuropathy in Southern Colorado, our experienced group of neurologists, neurosurgeons, and neurophysiologists at CSNA can help. We specialize in diagnosis, treatment, and management for a variety of neurological disorders.
Please call CSNA at 719-473-3272 or contact our office online to schedule an appointment. We look forward to helping you.