A Guide to Understanding Neuropathic Pain
By Jo Ann LeQuang
If you have never heard of neuropathy, that would not be at all unusual. But the fact is, it is all around you. According to the Neuropathy Association, about 20 million Americans suffer from peripheral neuropathy. Neuropathy may be the epidemic that nobody ever heard of.
Neuropathy means nerve damage. People with neuropathy suffer from a wide range of symptoms that are brought on when nerves in the body are damaged.
There are three main types of nerve in the body. Sensory nerves govern our senses (heat, cold, pressure, touch). Motor nerves regulate our muscles. Autonomic nerves control the internal organs. When any or all of these kinds of nerve suffer damage or destruction, neuropathic symptoms can occur.
Peripheral neuropathy is the medical term for neuropathy that causes symptoms on the body's periphery, that is, the hands and feet. These symptoms can include sensations of numbness, tingling, cold, tingling, "pins and needles," and different types of pains from sudden sharp jabs to dull aches.
Neuropathy is progressive, which means that over time it will get worse. This is not to say that there are not many types of treatments for neuropathy--there are. There will be many cases where the neuropathic symptoms can be relieved; in other cases, the neuropathy can at best be managed.
About a third of the people who develop neuropathy have diabetes. Many diseases can cause neuropathy (including HIV/AIDs, tumors, some infections) and diabetes heads the list. About two-thirds of people who develop neuropathy get neuropathy because some other disease or condition damaged their nervous system.
Another third of neuropathy patients have neuropathy for no known cause. This is called idiopathic neuropathy.
The symptoms from neuropathy can be as unique as the individuals who suffer from neuropathy. The condition can start suddenly or begin gradually. At first, the symptoms have often been described as unusual sensations like cold, buzzing, prickling, tingling and even the sensation that one is wearing gloves or socks even when hands and feet are not covered. Such weird feelings may occur spontaneously, for no apparent reason, and come and go without warning. Painful symptoms can also occur, with "electric shock" type pain and sharp, shooting pains often reported.
Neuropathy can start in feet or hands or both. After a while, these feelings can spread and to the legs and arms.
Other symptoms can include a heaviness in the muscles and a loss of balance.Some people with neuropathy have trouble walking because they lose the awareness of where their feet are. It can be difficult for a person with neuropathy to grasp or grip items.
Neuropathy can also be a side effect of certain medications. About 4% of all neuropathy cases are called medication-induced neuropathy. When the medication is discontinued, many people will get relief from neuropathy. In fact, the neuropathy in some cases goes away permanently. Probably the most common category of medicine that can cause neuropathy are certain chemotherapy drugs.
If you have or think you might suffer from neuropathy, you should see your physician and discuss it. You may benefit from a referral to a neurologist. Neuropathy is a complex condition and while there is no cure, there may be things that can help slow its progression and relieve symptoms.
Chronic pain can devastate lives--but there is hope. If you or a loved one is facing neuropathy or another cause of chronic pain, help raise awareness by joining us at the associationofchronicpainpatients.org.