Neuropathy Affects More Than 24 Million Americans. Here’s What You Need to Know About It.
Have you heard of the common nerve disorder known as peripheral neuropathy (PN)? Perhaps you’ve recently been diagnosed with the condition and have come to our post seeking answers. In any case, we are glad you’re here because educating yourself about PN is an excellent decision for your health.
In this comprehensive post, we will educate you on all aspects of peripheral neuropathy, from what it is to how we diagnose it and the available treatment methods. We hope you find it helpful on your journey to a pain-free lifestyle.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder that affects many nerves throughout the body. Specifically, it occurs within the peripheral nervous system. These are all the nerves in your body outside the brain and spinal cord.
There are three types of nerves in the peripheral nervous system. Each connects the spinal cord to muscles, skin and internal organs. Here are the three nerves and their functions:
- Sensory Nerves: These receive sensations such as pain, temperature, touch, and vibration from the skin.
- Motor Nerves: These nerves control the movement of your muscles.
- Autonomic Nerves: These control passive functions like digestion, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Peripheral neuropathy occurs when a part of these nerves, known as the nerve axon, is damaged. The nerve axon is a long, slender projection that projects electrical impulses away from the nerve. Consequently, the nerves no longer function as they should. Instead, they either fail to send signals, send signals at wrong times, or send false signals.
What are the Symptoms of the Disorder?
The symptoms that result from neuropathy’s disruptive effects vary depending on the type of nerves damaged. The areas of the body most commonly affected by PN are the hands and feet. However, the disorder can also affect the internal organs.
Here’s a breakdown of the condition’s symptoms based on the different types of nerves affected.
Sensory Nerve Symptoms
Since sensory nerves have many different functions, the symptoms tend to vary, but here are the most prominent:
- Numbness, tingling, or prickling in feet or hands
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- Pain characterized as sharp, stabbing, burning, freezing, or throbbing
Motor Nerve Symptoms
Because they control the muscles, neuropathy in these nerves leads to deficiencies in strength and agility:
- Weakness or paralysis of muscles
- Loss of coordination, falling
- Cramps or intense muscle twitching
Automatic Nerve Symptoms
When it’s the autonomic nerves that are affected, the following problems with external and internal organs can occur:
- Unusual sweating and intolerance to heat
- Problems with the bladder, bowels, and digestion
- Lightheadedness or dizziness caused by changes to blood pressure
Neuropathy can affect one type of nerves or a variety. When it only damages one kind it’s called a mononeuropathy, and when multiple kinds are damaged, it’s called a polyneuropathy. One famous type of mononeuropathy is carpal tunnel syndrome, in which the median sensory nerve in the hand is the only one damaged. Unsurprisingly, polyneuropathies are much more challenging to diagnose than mononeuropathies since their causes and symptoms can tend to vary.
What are the Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy?
There are many known causes of this disorder. In the United States, the most prominent causes include diabetes, chemotherapy, and HIV/AIDS. However, for about one-fourth of Americans with peripheral neuropathy their conditions are idiopathic, or of unknown cause.
Other less common causes of PN include:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Trauma or pressure exerted on a nerve
- Nutritional imbalances
Determining the cause of neuropathy is important because it allows doctors to treat the condition more effectively. In the next section, we will look at some of the differences between the most common types of neuropathy.
What are the Main Types of Neuropathy?
The five most prevalent kinds of PN in the United States are diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN), chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), HIV/AIDS neuropathy, idiopathic neuropathy, and alcoholic neuropathy.
Here are some facts you should know about each type:
Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy
This type of PN is the most common in the United States. Over 60% of diabetics in this country have developed some form of the disorder. DPN can affect the sensory, motor, or autonomic nerves with varying severity. But the critical thing to note is the longer DPN goes untreated, the more severe it will get. So, people with diabetes should seek treatment right away if they start experiencing neuropathy symptoms.
Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy
One of the many unfortunate side-effects of chemotherapy is neuropathy. As a result, over 30% of chemo patients in this country experience some form of nerve damage. Furthermore, in some cases, the neuropathy can sometimes persist long after chemo treatment is complete.
HIV/AIDS Peripheral Neuropathy
One-third of all Americans with HIV/AIDS suffer from symptoms of PN. There are a few reasons for this, the most prominent being the disease itself and the medications used to treat it. Researchers believe HIV causes the disorder because of the inflammation it creates in the immune system. And drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS have also produced PN by damaging cells within the nerves.
Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy
Although there is no known cause for idiopathic PN, we do know that it typically affects people over 60 and slowly worsens over time. So, older individuals should watch out for PN symptoms to develop and seek treatment early to counteract the condition.
Experts are not entirely sure why alcoholism leads to PN. However, many suspect it has something to do with alcohol preventing essential nutrients from getting to the nerves. So, the best thing someone with alcoholic PN can do is stop drinking and begin improving their health with vitamin supplements and physical therapy. While symptoms of PN may hang around long after the alcohol consumption has stopped, full recovery is possible with time.
How Do Doctors Diagnose PN?
Since PN comes in so many different forms, diagnosing the disorder can be complicated. For this reason, physicians employ many methods of identifying neuropathy. Often, they will use a combination of these methods to determine the exact nature of the PN.
Here are just a few of the approaches that doctors use to diagnose the disorder:
- Asking about a patient’s medical history
- Blood tests
- Neurological exams
- Body fluid tests
- Muscle strength tests
- Nerve biopsy
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- CT scan
These tests monitor many different parts of the body and allow doctors to pinpoint the location and severity of the nerve damage. If performed early enough, they can help doctors treat neuropathy before it becomes too serious.
What is the Prognosis for Peripheral Neuropathy?
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for peripheral neuropathy. However, as we will discuss below, there are ways to treat the condition and lessen the symptoms. Still, we must emphasize the fact that if left untreated, PN can lead to all sorts of issues.
For example, diabetic PN often leads to limb amputations that could have been prevented. These amputations occur because people don’t seek treatment for their disorder until it’s too late, allowing life-threatening problems like gangrene or foot ulcers to develop.
Other potentially serious complications include malfunctions of the heart and circulatory system. These problems may lead to a patient requiring blood pressure treatment or a pacemaker.
Of course, these complications are only worst-case scenarios. People can avoid them by acting right away to combat neuropathy. Read on to find out about the prevention methods and treatments available.
How Can You Prevent the Disorder?
By making good lifestyle choices right now, you can prevent PN before it starts. These choices should include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and not smoking. You should also take good care of your hands and feet and avoid letting injuries go untreated.
You should also be aware of drugs that can cause peripheral neuropathy. These include anti-alcohol drugs, cancer medications, and heart or blood pressure drugs. If you are taking medicines that you think may be exaggerating your PN, then you should talk with your doctor about discontinuing or reducing the dosage.
What Treatments are Available for PN?
Once diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, you have two basic choices to address the symptoms: the medical model, or our chiropractic model.
The Medical Model for PN Treatment
First is the medical model, which has one real goal: control the symptoms. The medications that physicians use for chronic neuropathic pain fall under several classes of drugs, such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, pain patches, and opioid painkillers. Commonly used medications include Lyrica, Cymbalta, Gabapentin, and Neurontin.
This approach may make you more comfortable, but you probably won’t like the side effects of the drugs. More importantly, while these meds do lessen the symptoms, they’re only masking and covering up the pain while the nerve damage continues to get worse with time.
The Chiropractic Model for Neuropathy Pain Relief
The second approach requires you to think differently. If you’ve been to medical doctors or neurologists, they will tell you that there is “nothing you can do” and you will have to “learn to live with the pain.” However, this isn’t true.
The truth is chiropractic care can heal the nerves and address the root cause of neuropathy. At Algonquin Chiropractic, we have developed an innovative and systematic approach to treating neuropathy and helping our clients recover. Treatment methods we utilize for this condition include:
- Seated and standing vibration therapy
- Laser therapy
- Home therapy (where we send equipment to your home)
- Changes to diet and nutrition
Together, these techniques typically result in at least a 50% improvement. Thus, our clients often see a significant reduction of symptoms and a drastic improvement in their coordination. If you’ve already tried other medical therapies, then our system is likely a good fit for you.
Are You Suffering from Peripheral Neuropathy?
As we have seen, peripheral neuropathy is a severe disorder that affects many Americans every year. It has many causes and, if left untreated, can lead to some devastating results. Fortunately, treatments exist to counteract this disorder and bring people much-needed relief.
So, if you have been experiencing symptoms of PN, do not delay! We at Algonquin Chiropractic can diagnose and treat your neuropathy. We’re also happy to answer any lingering questions you may have about the disorder.