Over 20 million Americans suffer from at least one type of neuropathy- a problem caused by damage to the nerves located throughout the body.
Neuropathy interferes with your body’s ability to transmit messages to your muscles, skin, joints, and/or your internal organs. If it is ignored or mistreated, neuropathy can lead to irreversible health problems.
Neuropathy is the result of nerve damage and often causes numbness and pain in your hands and feet. People typically describe the pain of neuropathy as a tingling or burning sensation, while they may compare the loss of sensation to the feeling of wearing a thin glove.
One of the most common causes of neuropathy is diabetes. Neuropathy can also result from traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems and exposure to toxins.
What is neuropathy?
Peripheral – Beyond (in this instance, beyond the brain and the spinal cord.)
Neuropathy – neuro: related to the nerves
Neuropathy occurs when nerves that connect to the brain and spinal cord from the rest of the body are damaged or diseased. These damaged nerves in the brain and other parts of the body can impair muscle movement, prevent normal sensation in the arms and legs, and cause severe pain.
Types of peripheral neuropathy
There are numerous types of peripheral neuropathy with many different causes. They vary from mononeuropathy (carpal tunnel syndrome), acquired neuropathy (environmental caused neuropathy as a result from poor diet or medication side effects), and idiopathic neuropathy (which is from an unknown cause). As a whole, peripheral neuropathies are common, especially in regards to people over the age of 55.
Damage to a single peripheral nerve is called mononeuropathy, which usually occurs after physical injury.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common type of mononeuropathy. It ensues from over-use, which occurs when the nerve that extends through the wrist is compressed. People whose work requires repeated motions with the wrist extended (such as assembly-line workers, physical laborers, and those who use computer keyboards for prolonged periods) are at a greater risk. The damage to the nerve can result in numbness, tingling, unusual sensations, and pain in the first three fingers on the thumb side of the hand, mostly while sleeping. Over time, carpal tunnel syndrome and related physical injuries can weaken the muscles in the hand. You may also feel pain, tingling, or burning in your arm and shoulder.
This type of neuropathy is caused by environmental factors such as exposure to toxins, trauma, illness, and/or infection.
Idiopathic neuropathies are from an unknown cause. As many as one-third of all neuropathies are classified this way.
What is the cause of neuropathy?
About 30% of neuropathy cases are considered idiopathic, which means they are of an unknown cause. Another 30% of neuropathies are due to diabetes. In fact, about 50% of people with diabetes develop some type of neuropathy. The remaining cases of neuropathy, called acquired neuropathies, have several possible causes including:
- Trauma or pressure on the nerves (e.g. – pressure from a cast or wrap).
- Nutritional problems and vitamin deficiencies, often from a lack of B vitamins.
- Autoimmune diseases: such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
- Tumors, which frequently press up against the nerves.
- Other diseases and infections, including kidney disease, liver disease, Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS, or an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
- Inherited disorders (hereditary neuropathies), such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and amyloid polyneuropathy.
- Poison exposure from toxins such as heavy metals, certain medications and cancer treatments.
Who gets neuropathy?
Risk factors for peripheral neuropathy include several conditions and behaviors. People with diabetes who poorly control their blood sugar levels are very likely to suffer from some neuropathy. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis also increase one’s chance of developing a neuropathy. People who have received organ transplants, HIV/AIDS patients, and others who have had some type of immune system suppression also have a higher risk of neuropathy. In addition, those who abuse alcohol or have vitamin deficiencies (especially B vitamins) are at an increased risk. Neuropathy is also more likely to occur in people with kidney, liver or thyroid disorders.
What are the symptoms of neuropathy?
Typically people who suffer from neuropathy experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Numbness and tingling in your hands, feet and legs.
- Cramps, stress and anxiety.
- A cold feeling or burning sensation in the feet, legs, and hands.
- A painful sensation when touching or holding something.
Neuropathy symptoms depend on several factors, specifically where the affected nerves are located and which type of nerves are affected (motor, sensory, autonomic). Several types of neuropathy affect all three types of nerves. Some neuropathies suddenly arise while others happen gradually over the course of a few years.