The risk of peripheral neuropathy is increasing with the incidence of diabetes and vascular problems. With “diabetic neuropathy being the most common complication of diabetes” (1). This makes it crucial to figure out ways to deal with this condition and to prevent them from developing it in the first place. But this is difficult, peripheral neuropathy can have many causes and some individuals are genetically predisposed to its development.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy (a.k.a as “neuropathy”) is an umbrella term describing the many symptoms that arise from damage to peripheral nerves- usually of hands and feet. Peripheral nerves are those that are not part of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and are found all throughout the body.
Damaged peripheral nerves are unable to continue normal function. As a result, the individual can experience a variety of symptoms including numbness, false sensations, pain, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, and many other symptoms associated with the affected area.
Causes of Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy results from nerve damage, thus anything that can damage nerves is a potential cause for neuropathy. While not limited to, this includes:
- Physical Trauma, Autoimmune Diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis), Circulation Problems, Diabetes, Hormonal Imbalances, Kidney Disease, Chemotherapy and more.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)- “genetic mutations have been identified to more than 80 distinct hereditary neuropathies” (2). Yet, acquired neuropathy (not genetic) is the most common, with older caucasian men being at greater risk (3).
Types of Neuropathy
Apart from labeling neuropathy as acquired or hereditary, it may be classified into three types- sensory, motor, or autonomic. The type (function) of the nerves affected defines this classification. For example, sensory neuropathy refers to damaged sensory nerves and motor neuropathy to damaged motor nerves. Symptoms for each type of neuropathy differ from each other but not always.
Sensory Neuropathy: This type of neuropathy involves damage to sensory peripheral nerves. As a result, a person may experience false sensations due to damage to signAs a result, nerve signaling is disrupted and a person may experience false sensations ranging from the lack of sensation to severe pain. Other symptoms include tingling, numbness, and loss of reflexes- especially and the hands and feet.
Motor Neuropathy: Involves damage to motor peripheral nerves. Symptoms from this type of nerve damage may include muscle weakness, twitching, cramps, and spasms. There is also a decrease in muscle tone, muscle control, and fine-motor skills.
Autonomic Neuropathy: This involves damage to peripheral autonomic (“involuntary”) nerves. Involuntary nerves are in charge of controlling many of the body’s most important functions and disrupting their signal will result in a wide range of symptoms. This may include abnormal blood pressure and heart rate, problems with digestion and urination, and sexual dysfunction (3).
Treatment and Prevention
First, treatment for symptoms of neuropathy depends on etiology (the cause) and may vary based on the type of nerves being affected. Furthermore, medication for neuropathy tends to focus on controlling the symptoms and controlling nerve, the only real treatment is to let the nerves recover. This, unfortunately, means that most individuals will have to deal with neuropathy for the rest of their lives.
Next, lowering the risk of neuropathy may occur despite limited treatment options. The majority of neuropathy is acquired (not genetic) and may be tied to lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes and problems with circulation. Having a balanced diet and exercising will lower risk of lifestyle conditions and acquired neuropathy.
In addition, alternative medicine offers options to help with the symptoms and effectiveness varies per individuals. Techniques like massage, acupuncture, and manipulation therapies are worth exploring to ease the symptoms.
- Juster-Switlyk, K., & Smith, A. G. (2016, April 25). Updates in diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4847561/
- Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Peripheral-Neuropathy-Fact-Sheet
- Neuropathy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14737-neuropathy