Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to the peripheral nervous system, the vast communications network that transmits information from the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) to every other part of the body. Peripheral nerves also send sensory information back to the brain and spinal cord, such as a message that the feet are cold or a finger is burned. Damage to the peripheral nervous system interferes with these vital connections. Like static on a telephone line, peripheral neuropathy distorts and sometimes interrupts messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
Peripheral neuropathy, in its most common form, causes pain and numbness in your hands and feet. The pain typically is described as tingling or burning, while the loss of sensation often is compared to the feeling of wearing a thin stocking or glove. Peripheral neuropathy can result from such problems as traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems and exposure to toxins. One of the most common causes of the disorder is diabetes.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Because every peripheral nerve has a highly specialized function in a specific part of the body, a wide array of symptoms can occur when nerves are damaged. Some people may experience temporary numbness, tingling, and pricking sensations (paresthesia), sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness. Others may suffer more extreme symptoms, including burning pain (especially at night), muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction. People may become unable to digest food easily, maintain safe levels of blood pressure, sweat normally, or experience normal sexual function. In the most extreme cases, breathing may become difficult or organ failure may occur.
Most commonly, peripheral neuropathy begins in the longest nerves, the ones that reach to your toes. Specific symptoms vary, depending on which types of nerves are affected. Signs and symptoms may include:
1. Gradual onset of numbness and tingling in your feet or hands, which may spread upwards into your legs and arms
2. Burning pain
3. Sharp, jabbing or electric-like pain
4. Extreme sensitivity to touch, even light touch
5. Lack of coordination
6. Muscle weakness or paralysis if motor nerves are affected
7 Bowel or bladder problems if autonomic nerves are affected
A number of factors can cause neuropathies. These factors include:
1. Trauma or pressure on the nerve: Nerve pressure can result
from using a cast or crutches, spending a long time in an
unnatural position, repeating a motion many times — such as
typing at a computer keyboard — or having a tumor or abnormal
bone growth. When peripheral neuropathy affects a single nerve,
trauma or nerve pressure is the most likely cause.
2. Diabetes: When damage occurs to several nerves, the cause
frequently is diabetes. At least half of all people with diabetes
develop some type of neuropathy.
3. Vitamin deficiencies: B vitamins are particularly important to
4. Alcoholism: Many alcoholics develop peripheral neuropathy because they have poor dietary habits, leading to vitamin
5. Autoimmune diseases: These include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
6. Other diseases: Kidney disease, liver disease and an
underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) also can cause peripheral
neuropathy. Patients with HIV/AIDS also are prone to develop
7. Inherited disorders: Examples include Charcot-Marie-Tooth
disease and amyloid polyneuropathy.
8. Exposure to poisons: These may include some toxic
substances, such as heavy metals, and certain medications —
especially those used to treat cancer.
Peripheral neuropathy risk factors include:
1. Diabetes, especially if your sugar levels are poorly controlled
2. Vitamin deficiencies, particularly B vitamins
3. Immune system suppression, which occurs in people who have received organ transplants and people with AIDS, among others
4. Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, in which the immune system attacks your own tissues.
5. Kidney, liver or thyroid disorders
6. Alcohol abuse
If your feet are numb, you may be less likely to feel when they've become injured. Make sure to check your feet regularly so that you can treat minor injuries before they become infected. This is especially important for people with diabetes, who tend to heal more slowly.
The first goal of treatment is to manage the condition causing your neuropathy. If the underlying cause is corrected, the neuropathy often improves on its own. The second goal of treatment is to relieve the painful symptoms.
Electric Muscle Stimulation
The best way to prevent peripheral neuropathy is to carefully manage any medical condition that puts you at risk. That means controlling your blood sugar level if you have diabetes or talking to your doctor about safe and effective treatments if you think you may have a problem with alcohol.
Whether or not you have a medical condition, eat a healthy diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. The best food sources of vitamin B-12 are meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy foods and fortified cereals. If you're a strict vegetarian, fortified cereals are a good source of vitamin B-12 for you, but you may also want to talk to your doctor about B-12 supplements.
As much as possible, avoid repetitive motions, cramped positions and toxic chemicals, all of which may cause nerve damage.
The following suggestions can help you manage peripheral neuropathy:
Take care of your feet, especially if you have diabetes. Check your feet daily for signs of blisters, cuts or calluses. Tight shoes and socks can worsen pain and tingling and may lead to sores that won't heal. Wear soft, loose cotton socks and padded shoes. You can use a semicircular hoop, which is available in medical supply stores, to keep bedcovers off hot or sensitive feet.
Exercise. Ask your doctor about an exercise routine that's right for you. Regular exercise may reduce neuropathy pain and can help control blood sugar levels.
Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking can affect circulation, increasing the risk of foot problems and possibly amputation.
Eat healthy meals. If you're at high risk of neuropathy or have a chronic medical condition, healthy eating is especially important. Emphasize low-fat meats and dairy products and include lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
Massage your hands and feet, or have someone massage them for you. Massage helps improve circulation, stimulates nerves and may temporarily relieve pain.
Avoid prolonged pressure. Don't keep your knees crossed or lean on your elbows for long periods of time. Doing so may cause new nerve damage.
Contact Dr. Curt White, Chiropractor, at White Chiropractic in Mooresville. 704-799-1416.