WHAT IS PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY?
Peripheral neuropathy is a problem with the peripheral nerves. It is also called nerve palsy.
The peripheral nerves are all of the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. They move information from the brain and spinal cord to every other part of the body. They connect your brain and spinal cord to your muscles and allow you to move your muscles. They also conduct sensations such as pain, temperature, and touch to your brain. The nerves connecting to your lungs, digestive system, and other organs are also part of the peripheral nervous system.
HOW DOES IT OCCUR?
Peripheral neuropathy can have many causes. Anything that makes it hard for a nerve to work properly can lead to this problem. Some common causes are:
· Direct injury to the nerve, such as a sports injury
· Pressure on a nerve caused by:
· Repetitive use (such as carpal tunnel syndrome)
· Improper use of crutches
· An abnormal growth, such as a tumor
· Diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, lupus, or alcoholism
· Infections (usually viral, for example, infections by the herpes virus)
· Poisons and some medicines, such as some cancer medicines
· A lack of vitamins, such as vitamin B-12, or a lack of minerals
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The symptoms depend on which nerves are damaged. Possible symptoms include:
· Muscle weakness
· Being very sensitive to touch
· Leaking of urine
· Bowel problems, such as constipation or diarrhea.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Your primary care provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He or she will examine you. You may have a nerve conduction test to check how well your nerves are working. You may have blood tests to look for possible causes, such as diabetes, lupus, and a lack of vitamins.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
The treatment depends on the cause. For example:
· If the nerve is just bruised after an injury, the symptoms may go away without treatment.
· If the neuropathy is caused by a disease, such as diabetes or lupus, you may need treatment that controls the disease better.
· If the cause is a lack of vitamins, your primary care provider may prescribe vitamin supplements.
The symptoms can be treated with medicines, such as:
· Nonprescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen
· Prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
· Medicines that can be put on the skin and numb the skin (lidocaine) or block pain (capsaicin)
· Medicines that also treat seizures, such as gabapentin (Neurontin), topiramate (Topamax), pregabalin (Lyrica), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and phenytoin (Dilantin).
· Antidepressant medicines that can help relieve pain
Sometimes narcotic medicines are prescribed when nothing else works. However, you can get addicted to these medicines. They may also cause sleepiness and other side effects. In high doses they may cause trouble breathing and even death. For these reasons they are used only as a last resort.
Some other possible treatments for nerve pain are:
· Biofeedback, which is a way to learn to control your body’s responses with your mind
· Relaxation methods
· Electronic nerve stimulation devices
· Shots of local anesthetics, steroids, or other medicines to block pain signals or decrease irritation of the nerves
· In severe cases, surgery to cut the nerve causing the pain
HOW LONG WILL THE EFFECTS LAST?
Peripheral neuropathy caused by an injury usually lasts from a few days to several weeks, depending on the injury. When the problem is caused by diabetes and other chronic diseases, it tends to not go away completely. However, it may get better with treatment of the disease. Neuropathy caused by a viral infection may or may not go away with time.
HOW CAN I TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?
If you have a disease, such as diabetes, the best way to take care of yourself is to follow your primary care provider’s advice. Be sure to take your medicines as prescribed. If the cause of your neuropathy is an injury, the best thing you can do is to try to protect against further injury. Be cautious if you are taking a nonprescription pain reliever. Check with your primary care provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen.
This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your primary care provider, do not take NSAIDs for more than 10 days for any reason.
HOW CAN I HELP PREVENT NEUROPATHY?
Sometimes it’s hard to avoid injuries that cause neuropathy. Seatbelts, helmets, and proper workplace safety equipment are a good start. Home accident prevention is also important. Pay attention to how you use your computer so you can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. If the problem is caused by a disease, carefully follow your primary care provider’s treatment plan. For example, neuropathy caused by diabetes can be prevented or delayed with good control of blood sugar. Follow your primary care provider’s advice and take your medicines as prescribed. Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat to give you enough vitamin B-12.
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