National Neuropathy Awareness Week is observed from May 12 to May 16. Over 20 million Americans are suffering from neuropathy, also called peripheral neuropathy. Neuropathy occurs in 60% to 70% of people with diabetes.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is one of the most common chronic neurological diseases and is often misdiagnosed. It is a result of damage to the peripheral nervous system. There are 3 types of nerves in the peripheral nervous system — sensory nerves, motor nerves, and autonomic nerves. Sensory nerves receive sensation. Motor nerves control muscle movement. Autonomic nerves control functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion.
Sensory neuropathy symptoms include:
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Changes in sensation — pain, pressure, temperature, or touch
- Loss of coordination or reflexes
- Burning sensation
Motor neuropathy symptoms include:
- Difficulty walking or moving your arms or legs
- Muscle weakness, twitching, cramps, and spasms
- Loss of muscle control and muscle tone
- Loss of dexterity
- Loss of balance and falling
Autonomic neuropathy symptoms include:
- Abnormal blood pressure or heart rate
- Decreased sweating
- Bowel, bladder or digestive problems
- Unintentional weight loss
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Nausea or vomiting
Neuropathy can also result from a number of conditions including diabetes, traumatic injuries, infections, vitamin deficiencies, alcoholism, metabolic problems, exposure to toxins, and autoimmune diseases. People with neuropathy generally describe the pain as stabbing, burning or tingling.
Besides a physical exam, a peripheral neuropathy diagnosis may require:
- A full medical history
- Neurological examination
- Blood tests
- Imaging tests
- Nerve function
- Nerve and/or skin biopsy
Peripheral Neuropathy Treatment
Peripheral neuropathy treatment goals are to manage the condition and to relieve symptoms. Medications used include pain relievers, anti-seizure medications, topical treatments, and anti-depressants. Various therapies including transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and physical therapy may help the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. Complementary treatments for relief can include acupuncture, alpha-lipoic acid, herbs, and amino acids.
What You Can Do for Peripheral Neuropathy
- Take care of your feet, especially if you have diabetes.
- Walking three times a week can reduce neuropathy pain.
- Good nutrition is especially important to ensure that you get essential vitamins and minerals.
- Alcohol can worsen peripheral neuropathy. Avoid excessive alcohol.
- Cigarette smoking can affect your circulation. Quit smoking.
If you notice unusual tingling, weakness or pain in your hands or feet, you should contact a neurologist right away. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent further damage to your peripheral nerves.