Peripheral Neuropathy

What is Neuropathy?

Neuropathy is basically derived from the two words “neuro” referring to the nerves and “pathy” referring to the disease. The more commonly used term is peripheral neuropathy, referring to the damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system. The reason for this condition may vary from disease of the nerves to trauma and it can even be a result of a systemic disease.

What are the symptoms?

Since each nerve of the body has a very specific function, the condition may manifest in a wide range of symptoms, depending on the nerve involved.  Some of the symptoms include temporary numbness, pricking or tingling sensations, sensitivity to touch or even muscle weakness. Some more extreme symptoms may include burning pain, muscle wasting or paralysis. Glandular or organ dysfunction may result in the body becoming unable to control the blood pressure, properly digest food, sweat appropriately or normal sexual function.

What causes neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy may be genetically inherited or acquired. It can be acquired by trauma to the nerve (e.g. by repetitive movement, direct hit etc.) nutritional deficiencies, toxins, tumors, metabolic or vascular disorders and alcoholism.  The most common cause of injury to a nerve is physical trauma. Repetitive stress from forceful or awkward activities flexes a group of joints for prolonged periods. As seen in some jobs requiring repetitive movements. This may result in irritation of the muscles and tendons to become swollen due to inflammation. This may cause the narrowing of passageways through which nerves pass, causing varying degrees of symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

A detailed patient history is the first step towards its diagnosis. It includes the symptoms, social habits, history of alcoholism, HIV, environment, work conditions. This is followed by a thorough neurological exam and specific tests according to the nerves involved. These tests may include blood test, test of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nerve conduction velocity test (NCV), electromyography (EMG) and nerve biopsy.

 


 

Is it treatable?

The acquired type of neuropathy may be treatable, if the cause is established. If there is an underlying condition causing the neuropathy, it is treated first followed by symptomatic treatment. Healthy habits have been shown to improve the symptoms such as maintaining optimal weight and blood sugar level, exercise program supervised by physician, correcting vitamin deficiencies if any, and avoiding alcohol. In some cases a surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure over the nerve. Exercise improves muscle strength and control. Braces and splints help in improving movement. Medicines may be needed to reduce the pain.

Can I avoid neuropathy?

Some causes of acquired neuropathy can be avoided.

  • Follow a balanced diet to get your share of required vitamins.
  • Keep a control over medical problems such as diabetes.
  • Keep on a lookout for potentially toxic substances at workplace.
  • Try to minimize physical trauma due to repetitive movements at workplace.

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