One significant medical condition is peripheral neuropathy. Research has, for instance, shown that about 20 million people are living in the US live with this ailment. It is even more exhilarating that this condition is not just a single health situation but a word that explains a lot of other health challenges that involve damages to the peripheral nerves and the accompanying symptoms. But right before delving into further details, let us briefly define what peripheral neuropathy is.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
In a simple definition, Peripheral Neuropathy is a medical condition that occurs as a result of damages to the nerves that are located just outside the peripheral nerves (the brain and spinal cord). It is what causes weakness, pains and, sometimes, numbness in the hands and feet. Similarly, other areas of body functions that it can affect include digestion, urination and blood circulation.
Usually, the peripheral nervous systems send information from the brain and the central nervous system (CNS) to other parts of the body. In the same measure, the peripheral nerves also direct sensory information to the CNS.
The type of neuropathy that we have to include:
- Mononeuropathy: this occurs when neuropathy damages only a single nerve.
- Polyneuropathy: occurs when neuropathy has initiated damage in as many nerves as possible.
- Distal symmetric polyneuropathy: this is the most prevalent amongst people who have diabetes. Here, nerve fibers that are distant from the CNS are the very first to encounter malfunction.
Meanwhile, there are many sub-components of the peripheral nerves in the human body. But the primary category is three, with each of them playing key roles in the proper functioning of the body system. They include:
- Sensory nerves convey information from all the five senses—including sight, smell, hear, taste and touch—through the spinal cord to the brain. For instance, one sensory nerve will communicate with the brain with information about objects you hold, such as pain, temperature, texture etc.
- Motor nerves: these travel in the opposite direction to the sensory nerves. They convey messages from the brain to the muscles, directing the muscles on how and when to contract to produce movement—for instance, moving the hands away from a hot object.
- Autonomic nerves: These nerves are essential to aid body functions that occur just outside of direct control. These include breathing, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, sexual arousal etc. Also, these nerves regularly monitor and respond to external stress and other essential body needs. For example, anytime you run a temperature due to your engagement in an exercise, the autonomic nerves activate the sweat glands, which reduce the temperature from rising any higher.
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
A variety of things can cause peripheral neuropathy. It can be caused when it affects the nerve axons, myelin sheath or the combination of the two (Nerve axons are along impulses conducted to cells while myelin sheath covers the axon, protecting it).
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy (FPN), neuropathy is often caused by the following health conditions:
- Diabetes: more than ever, this is the most prevalent cause of peripheral neuropathy. People with poorly managed diabetes and poorly controlled blood-sugar constitute about 60 percent of the total number of people afflicted with neuropathy.
- Idiopathic neuropathy: again, the second most common neuropathy causes occur with people who do not know its cause. Research has shown that this category of people constitutes about 23 percent.
- Auto-Immune diseases: several autoimmune diseases can also cause peripheral neuropathy. This may include Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. Others are chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Guillain-Barre syndrome and vasculitis.
Similarly, peripheral neuropathy may also be caused by include:
- Infections: infections may appear in different forms. The most prevalent ones may include Lyme disease, shingles, hepatitis B and C, leprosy and even HIV/AIDS.
- Tumors: the growth of cancerous and non-cancerous tumors on the nerves can occur. Cancers may occur when the body’s immune system is terrible and can create a degenerative disorder such as paraneoplastic syndrome.
Other causes of neuropathies include:
- Exposure to poison
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Injury on the nerves
- Family history
Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms
Each nerve in the human peripheral system—mononeuropathy, polyneuropathy and distal symmetric neuropathy—functions. Hence, the symptoms that become visible will depend on the type of nerves that becomes afflicted. The signs and symptoms that may affect peripheral neuropathy include:
- Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
- Sensitivity to touch
- Sharp, burning pain
- Weakness in the muscle
- Lack of coordination
Should it be the autonomic nerves that got afflicted, the symptoms that would be seen may include:
- Excess sweat
- Digestive problems
- Reduction in blood pressure
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Heat tolerance
Peripheral Neuropathy Treatment
The treatment of peripheral neuropathy usually varies according to the type required. Similarly, the severity of the pain and your expectations are also important things to consider before deciding.
However, since the main motive behind any treatment you decide to go after is to get a proper cure from neuropathy and promptly return to your normal activities, you should engage the best that your therapist prescribes for you.
If you have peripheral neuropathy, according to the diagnosis, you should consult a physical therapist. Physical therapy is a kind of sports medicine that will assist you in getting back to fitness from the sores on your hands and feet.
Early physical therapy treatment will help prevent further nerve damages and aid your healing process. Also, it will help you prevent such damages in the future.
The physical therapy that may be adopted include:
Your therapist would assist you in ensuring your nerves and muscles are gently manipulated to move. The muscles in your hands and feet are equally worked on to increase flexibility and strength. Your therapist may drive the affected parts to facilitate quick healing. Doing this will ensure that essential areas are touched which cannot be adequately treated by yourself.
When your muscles and nerves give you troubles from neuropathic conditions, you can engage in a couple of motion-range exercises as a physical therapy option. Exercises that you can engage in include aerobic, balance and stretching and strengthening. Regular involvement in these exercises can help lower high blood sugar. However, it would be best if you did not stretch while in the recovery phase. It is only on the instruction of your therapist that you can then consider it safe to start specific mild physical exercises.
Alternative Options to Treat Peripheral Neuropathy
While physical treatment is the most sought-after treatment for neuropathy, many people also use alternative options as complementary relief. Although groundbreaking research has not been thoroughly carried out on these techniques, they have appeared to be promising:
- Acupuncture: this is an ancient treatment method that works wonders. It is done by inserting thin needles at various points of the body. Although this procedure may need to be undergone on multiple sessions before notable improvement can be seen, it is still considered safe in treating peripheral neuropathy, primarily when conducted by a certified practitioner with sterilized needles.
- Amino acids: the intake of amino acids such as acetyl-L-carnitine has been proven to benefit those who have gone through chemotherapy. People with diabetes equally find it compelling, although they may experience nausea and vomiting as side effects.
- Herbs: when some herbs such as evening primrose oil are taken, it may reduce pains due to neuropathy. However, you have to be careful before taking any herb concoction as it may have a reacting interaction with medications. Hence, you should consult your doctor for advice before consumption.
Other essential treatment options for peripheral neuropathy include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Some medications such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and other NSAIDs might assist in the relief of your pain and ultimately reduce inflammation of the nerves in the affected areas. However, you should follow prescriptions that an appropriate health professional has hitherto recommended to avoid abuse.
Plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin
The plasma exchange is a procedure that helps reduce immune system activity, which can benefit people afflicted with inflammatory conditions. It is conducted by the removal of antibodies and other proteins from the body. After that, the blood is then returned to the body. Meanwhile, immune globin therapy makes you receive high shots of proteins that function as antibodies.
Cost of Peripheral Neuropathy Treatment
The costs of treating the peripheral neuropathy condition in the US can be estimated in two ways:
- Patients covered by health insurance
- Patients not covered by health insurance
Patients’ out-of-pocket costs covered by health insurance include doctor’s visit copays and prescription drug copays of about 10-50% without further payments. However, those not covered by insurance may pay between $1000—$1,500 for treatment.
Medical Procedures for Peripheral Neuropathy
There is still no tangible progress made in difficult peripheral neuropathy situations, especially if you have tried many home remedy solutions and physical therapy treatment plans for neuropathy conditions. In that case, your therapist may recommend surgery for you.
However, if a surgical procedure is to be carried out, the following has to be taking into strict consideration:
Having established that peripheral neuropathy could be caused due to many reasons. Whatever cause it is, it is essential to run a proper diagnosis to ascertain the immediate and remote cause so that proper solutions and treatment methods can be put into proper use. The doctor may also require that you undergo tests such as the following:
- Blood tests: are often undergone to determine whether there are vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, or an abnormal immune system function that can cause peripheral neuropathy.
- Imaging tests: the essence of carrying out CT or MRI scans is to check for herniated disks or compressed nerves, tumors and other conditions that can be detrimental to blood vessels and bones.
- Nerve function tests: this is done by using Electromyography (EMG). The EMG obtains the record of ongoing electrical activities in the muscles and uses these signals to detect nerve damage.
- Skin biopsy: this is when your doctor removes a small portion of skin so that there would be a reduction in nerve endings.
- Nerve biopsy: this process makes the doctor remove a small portion of a nerve (usually a sensory nerve), searching for abnormalities.
Devices/Equipment to Relief Symptoms
When you are afflicted with peripheral neuropathy, many devices or equipment can serve as a relief to the condition, hasten recovery. Assistive devices and mechanical aids are very useful in the relief of pains due to neuropathy in patients. Listed below are a few of the available devices that can be employed:
Handrails: the presence of handrails in living spaces and stairs brings support and balance. While older people are prone to neuropathy, they are liable to fall anytime they experience it. However, the rails can come in handy and support them to grab against wet or slippery floors.
Automated devices: the world today has gone automated. Almost everything in our living spaces makes use of automation as a functionality. This is why electronic devices with sensors could assist people with peripheral neuropathy and relief them of stress. Devices in this category include automatic soap and water dispensers, electronic razors and toothbrushes.
Medical devices: Since diabetes is the primary cause of neuropathy, affected people would suffer regular fluctuation in blood sugar levels. As a result, several medical technology devices such as glucometer and sphygmomanometer are developed to monitor blood glucose levels to prevent the condition from getting out of hand.
Peripheral Neuropathy Prevention
The most essential and realistic method of preventing peripheral neuropathy in your system is to manage medical conditions that may put you at risk. These include diabetes, alcoholism and rheumatoid arthritis.
Similarly, you can also prevent neuropathy by making healthy lifestyle choices. These choices may include:
- Eating diets rich in fruits, vegetables and lean protein to keep the nerves healthy
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid repetitive motions and cramped positions that may put pressure on the nerves.
Natural Remedies for Peripheral Neuropathy
You can equally take care of peripheral neuropathy by embracing natural remedies. To help you manage the condition effectively, you can engage in the following:
Engage in regular exercise: when you engage in regular exercises as little as walking, you will be relieved of the pains from neuropathy. Similarly, your muscle strength would be significantly improved, and you would have control over your blood sugar level.
Eat healthy meals: taking good meals would ensure that your body system gets a regular supply of essential vitamins and minerals. Take a lot of fruits and vegetables into your diet.
Reduce alcohol intake: the ingestion of alcohol into your blood system can worsen peripheral neuropathy condition. Ensure to reduce or put an end to the amount of alcohol you take.
Other natural remedies that you can engage in include:
- Quit smoking
- Take regular care of your feet (especially if you have diabetes)
- Monitor your blood sugar levels
To part with, we have established in this article that peripheral neuropathy is a medical condition that occurs due to damages to the nerves located just outside the peripheral nerves (the brain and spinal cord). It is what causes weakness, pains and, sometimes, numbness in the hands and feet. Similarly, its common cause may include poorly managed diabetes, cancer or HIV/AIDS. Finally, this condition can be treated either by physical therapy or home/natural remedies. However, in chronic situations, surgery may be recommended by a doctor of good medical repute.