Neuropathy is a result of disease, damage or dysfunction of one or multiple peripheral nerves, resulting in burning pain, tingling, weakness or numbness and other emotional, mental and physical symptoms. It can be extremely challenging when multiple areas of the body are affected. However, symptoms can be lessened and managed with a change of lifestyle and a variety of treatments.
Symptoms of neuropathy depend on which nerves are affected and can include these symptoms:
- balance problems, and lack of coordination
- gastrointestinal or digestive problems
- low blood pressure
- extreme sensitivity to touch
- chronic pain
- muscle weakness and muscle fatigue
- overall fatigue or lack of energy
- headache and/or migraines
- temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ & TMD)
- blurred vision
- psycho-social behavior disorders
- dysfunction in organs or glands
- difficulty urinating or frequent urination
- decreased sexual function
Types of Neuropathy
There many different types of neuropathy. Three basic categories with examples are listed below:
- Peripheral neuropathy can affect multiple nerves (polyneuropathy) or only one nerve or nerve group (mononeuropathy). Peripheral neuropathy pain, usually occurs in the extremeties—the hands and feet. It can also affect other areas of the body. The peripheral nervous system sends impulses from the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) to the entire body. Alcoholic neuropathy is a type of peripheral or polyneuropathy which can develop from excessive alcohol consumption. People who drink too much may start to feel pain and tingling in their limbs and a depletion of B6, B12 and vitamin E, which results in neuropathy. Abstaining from alcohol can help improve symptoms and prevent further nerve damage.
- Mononeuropathy is usually the result of damage to one nerve or nerve group by trauma, injury, local compression, prolonged pressure, repetitive stress, or inflammation (for example, an injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome or Bell’s palsy are examples of mononeuropathy. Occipital nerve neuropathy is a mononeuropathy caused by irritation or injury usually to the occipital nerve (greater or lesser) resulting in burning head pain, unilateral occipito-parietal stabbing pains radiating to the frontal region and scalp tenderness in the occipital region, fatigue, anxiety, trouble sleeping and vision problems.
- Autonomic neuropathy is a form of polyneuropathy affecting mostly the internal organs (bladder muscles, the cardiovascular system, the digestive tract, and the genital organs). Autonomic neuropathy can cause a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms and/or low blood pressure. Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy Type 1 (HSAN1) is a peripheral neuropathy with severe sensory loss (ie. pressure, pain, temperature) usually starting in the feet. Dysautonomia is an generalized medical term referring to multiple neuropathy conditions caused by autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysfunction.
Diabetic neuropathy is the most common form of neuropathy, affecting about 60% of the people with neuropathy. There are four types of diabetic neuropathy: proximal neuropathy (also called diabetic amyotrophy), autonomic neuropathy, and focal neuropathy (also called mononeuropathy). Diabetic mononeuropathies can affect cranial nerves, peripheral nerves, or nerve roots.
Causes of Neuropathy
Symptoms of neuropathy can be a result of a number of different causes including those listed below. When a cause for neuropathy is not able to be determined, the neuropathy is termed, “idiopathic neuropathy.”
- Sjögren’s disease
- Erythromelalgia (EM)
- Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Bell’s Palsy
- B12 Vitamin Deficiency
- Injury and trauma (especially repetitive)
- Inflammatory Diseases
- Kidney Disease
- Mercury poisoning
- Unknown causes (Idiopathic Neuropathy)
Traditional Treatment or Therapies
Traditional therapies or treatments for neuropathy include a variety of approaches.
- Typical treatment by allopathic doctors is to prescribe oral pain relievers such as NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), or over-the-counter pain medications. These may or may not provide relief. Opioids are prescribed only when other treatments fail tramadol (Conzip, Ultram) or oxycodone (Oxycontin, Roxicodone, others), and can be highly addictive.
- Traditional medicine doctors also may or may not prescribe medications most commonly used to treat epileptic seizures, such as pregabalin (Lyrica), gabapentin (Gralise, Neurontin). These medications might be effective in treating nerve pain.
- Applications to the skin such as creams or Lidocaine patches may help to reduce pain. Lidocaine is a compound typically used in dental surgery or to treat abnormal heart rhythm, but can be effective to numb the skin as a local anesthetic, and reduce the sharp, burning, or aching pain and effective in treating skin overly sensitive to touch. Drowsiness, dizziness, or numbness may occur.
- Certain anti-depressants such as tricyclics can provide significant pain relief. These include amitriptyline, imipramine, clomipramine, desipramine, and nortriptyline.
- Surgery may or may not be recommended in special cases to relieve pressure on a nerve. A surgical procedure similar to carpal tunnel syndrome surgery–nerve decompression surgery–can help improve symptoms of pain, numbness, burning, tingling, and may prevent amputation.
Alternative, Holistic, Natural or Complimentary Treatments
Healthy lifestyle habits can help to manage the pain, or reduce the risk of neuropathy. Alternative and complimentary medicines and therapies, and simple preventative or supportive lifestyle changes may include:
- Avoid alcohol which can worsen neuropathy.
- Get enough Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause serious anemia, nerve damage and degeneration of the spinal cord.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in plant-based foods with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein
- Limit bad fats and eat a low fat diet rich in healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids
- Avoid added sugars or salt
- Get plenty of exercise and fresh air outdoors. Work closely with a physical therapist or your trusted physician to create an exercise program effective for you.
- Consider taking alpha-lipoic acid, which has been used successfully in Europe for many years. Discuss this with your doctor or healthcare practitioner.
- Monitor your blood-glucose level regularly, if you have diabetes.
- Avoid injury or infections and/or if this occurs, immediately seek care or treatment, which left untreated may trigger neuropathic flares, pain or further complications.
- Take special care for your feet. Wear padded shoes (such as memory foam shoes), check for blisters and calluses, wear loose, cotton socks. Keep heavy sheets and blankets off of hot, inflamed, painful feet or toes.
- Herbal supplements may or may not be helpful in alleviating pain. They can be found in a variety of products such as creams, capsules, oils, or liquids. Herbs for pain management include: ginseng, kava kava, Valerian root, and St. John’s Wart. Other herbs found to be effective are: evening primrose oil, ginger, capsaicin, arnica, MSM, turmeric, boswellia and willow bark. As always, check with your doctor. Even though kava is legal in the United States, the FDA advises you not use it if you have liver problems or are taking medications that affect your liver.
- Limit your intake of Vitamin B6 to less than 200 mg. Too much B6 can make neuropathy worse. Check with your trusted healthcare professional, dietitian, or nutritionist.
- Avoid eating foods with high levels of mercury (sometimes found in seafood). If a blood test shows you have mercury poisoning, you might need to begin chelation therapy to help remove mercury from your body. Discuss your diet with a trusted professional.
- Massage can lessen pain, improve circulation, help relieve anxiety and depression. The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy says that massage therapy is increasingly being offered along with standard treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.
- Acupuncture can be fairly safe (with a professional, licensed acupuncturist) and may be helpful in alleviating pain.
- Besides massage and acupuncture (two popular complimentary or alternative therapies), additional complimentary therapies can be very helpful in managing pain, circulation, mental health, stress and anxiety and improving quality of life. Complimentary therapies can include: music therapy, aromatherapy and essential oils, dance therapy, hypnotherapy, art therapy, meditation, yoga, color or light therapy, energetic therapy, and much more.
- Avoid stress which may trigger neuropathic pain. Include stress-free relaxing fun activities that you enjoy throughout your day.Biofeedback can be helpful in developing techniques to lesson stress, anxiety and pain.
- Spiritual or religious practices such as prayer, mindfulness, relaxation, or meditation can be helpful.
- If you have weakness, pain, or muscle fatigue, supportive braces, canes, walkers or other devices, might be helpful for back, wrists, head and feet.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest. Stop working at a task and take a break if you experience pain and fatigue. Practice patience, tolerance, and listen to your body. Respect your limitations.
- Counseling or therapy sessions (either group therapy or private sessions), can be helpful in managing pain. You might ask your doctor if there are chronic pain support groups in your community.
- Joining national or international online organizations or chat groups can be very beneficial. Organizations list treatment options and provide support. Some of these organizations are listed below
Neuropathy can be very challenging. Symptoms of pain, emotional stress and anxiety, muscle fatigue and weakness can be lessened and managed with a variety of treatment options. For more information check the helpful organizations and references listed below and work closely with your doctor, occupational therapist, physical therapist or trusted health practitioner.
Resources and Organizations
American Chronic Pain Association, https://www.theacpa.org/
Deater Foundation, http://www.deaterfoundation.org/
Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, https://www.foundationforpn.org/
The GBS/CIDP Foundation International, https://www.gbs-cidp.org/
Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation https://www.hnf-cure.org/about-us/
National Organization for Rare Diseases, https://rarediseases.org/organizations/neuropathy-association/
Neuropathy Action Foundation, http://neuropathyaction.org/
Neuropathy Association, http://www.neuropathy.org/
The Erythromelalgia Association (TEA), https://erythromelalgia.org/
The Western Neuropathy Association (WNA), https://pnhelp.org/
Jean Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University, is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder, and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, a 501(c)3 health education nonprofit organization. All photos used in this article are by www.pixabay.com unless otherwise noted. To find out more about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance visit www.montereybayholistic.com
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