faqs of peripheral neuropathy

What is peripheral neuropathy?

The simple definition of peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage, although the condition Peripheral Neuropathyitself is much more complex and challenging to treat. The condition primarily affects people who suffer from diabetes, although it has been known to show up in other patients.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, peripheral neuropathy involves damage to the nerves, which can lead to highly severe problems in patients with diabetes.

What are the Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy?

1:Diabetes mellitus

2:Inherited disorders

3:Shingles

4:Vitamin deficiency, particularly B12 and folate

5:Alcohol

6:Autoimmune diseases

7:AIDS, Kidney Failure, Liver Disease

8:Exposure to toxins, such as heavy metals

9:Cancer therapy drugs

Why does peripheral neuropathy impact patients with diabetes?

Since peripheral neuropathy causes nerve damage to the peripheral nervous system, communication is disrupted throughout the brain’s communication network and to other parts of the body. This condition can be especially critical in patients who have diabetes, and many argue that diabetes is actually a precursor to peripheral neuropathy.

If there is nerve damage, the brain and central nervous system may not be able to communicate from the brain to the extremity. Pain sensations may be limited and the body’s ability to feel pain, for example, in the feet may not be picked up.

As a result, a diabetic patient may step on something sharp and not feel the painful sensation or even know that a wound has occurred. When this occurs, the risk of infection increases due to the poor circulation combined with nerve damage in the foot. These patients are also at risk for amputation as a result of the nerve damage and infection.

According to the National Diabetes Association Clearinghouse, approximately 70 percent of people with diabetes exhibit some forms of damage to the nervous system. Of those with diabetes, nearly 30 percent of patients age 40 and older have reduced sensation in the feet. This means that at least one foot is impaired and lacks feeling. The number is staggering and continues to grow.

What are the symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy?

Sensory nerve disruption is among the most common symptom of peripheral neuropathy. Early on, patients have burning pain in the feet and/or hands along with numbness, tingling Pain of Diabetic Neuropathyand balance problems. They may have difficulty walking straight, handwriting, buttoning shirts, etc.

When it gets severe, people with this condition are usually unable to experience sensations of heat, touch or pain in the feet or hands. This can lead to severe arthritis (Charcot foot), nonhealing wounds, infections and the need for an amputation.

Since the peripheral nervous system, the communication system that sends messages out to other parts of the body, is affected the feet and hands are often impacted. Symptoms do vary greatly depending on which area of the body is impacted, but overall the same symptoms do occur:

  • Burning and heat-like pain
  • Gradual onset of numbness in the hands and feet
  • Pain and numbness that gradually spreads into the legs and arms
  • Sharp, jabbing pain sensations
  • Sensitivity to touch that becomes heightened over time
  • Muscle weakness and in the most extreme cases, paralysis
  • Problems with urination or bladder control
  • Bowel problems
  • Lack of coordination

Are there any risk factors that contribute to peripheral neuropathy?

As previously discussed, diabetes is one of the major risk factors of peripheral neuropathy. Diabetes is especially contributing to the condition if there is mismanagement of blood sugar levels and a poorly controlled diet. Alcohol abuse, smoking and vitamin or nutrient deficiencies may also contribute to making the condition worse over time.

Other factors that contribute to the condition include exposure to toxins, kidney and liver diseases, autoimmune diseases or other immune infections. Over activity and repetitive physical stress may also contribute to the onset and worsening of the condition.

Are there tests to determine if one has peripheral neuropathy?

Since peripheral neuropathy is not considered to be one stand-alone disease, but rather a symptom of another cause, it can be challenging to treat. There is no cure for peripheral neuropathy, although careful Pain Management and diabetes control can make things better for the patient.

The diagnosis is not always clear but does begin with a series of steps. Your doctor will acquire a complete physical examination that includes information about your daily habits and lifestyle. A physical examination will likely be given by your doctor to assess any limitations.

The neurological examination will check tendon reflexes, integrity of nerves, muscle strength and the ability to sense heat, cold and touch. Certain sensations may be given to assess the patient’s ability to feel them. Posture and coordination will also be checked.

Other tests that may be carried out include:

  • Blood tests to screen for infection
  • Imaging tests to assess disc herniation or problems
  • Nerve function exams
  • Nerve biopsy to look for abnormalities

What kinds of treatment are available for peripheral neuropathy?

Since peripheral neuropathy is not considered to be one stand-alone disease, but rather a symptom of another cause, it can be challenging to treat. There is no cure for peripheral neuropathy, although careful Pain Management and diabetes control can make things better for the patient.

The diagnosis is not always clear but does begin with a series of steps. Your doctor will acquire a complete physical examination that includes information about your daily habits and lifestyle. A physical examination will likely be given by your doctor to assess any limitations.

The neurological examination will check tendon reflexes, integrity of nerves, muscle strength and the ability to sense heat, cold and touch. Certain sensations may be given to assess the patient’s ability to feel them. Posture and coordination will also be checked.

Treatment varies but the common goal is to eliminate or at least decrease pain in the body. Correcting the underlying cause can help achieve this goal. Here are possible treatments:

  • Pain Medications- narcotic or non-narcotic
  • Neurogenic Stabliizers such as Neurontin or Lyrica
  • Tricylics & anti-seizure medications (may help control pain)
  • Physical therapy
  • TENS Units
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation

In a recent study out of Evansville Indiana looking at 75 patients with peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord stimulation reduced neuropathy pain in 85%. In addition, over half of the participants saw a complete reversal of their sensory loss with the stimulator in place!

If you or a loved on is suffering with peripheral neuropathy (diabetic or otherwise), help is available to manage the pain effectively. Let the Nevada Pain Network help connect you with effective pain management. Fill out the form or

call us at (702) 323-0553 for help today!