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Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder of the peripheral nerves, which transmit messages from the brain, spinal cord and the central nervous system to other parts of the body. The peripheral nerves inform the body when to feel sensations, like when the hands are cold. It can cause numbness, tingling, prickling and muscle feebleness in different parts of the body.
Peripheral neuropathy can affect different types of nerves, and its effect in different locations can vary. It can affect one nerve or many nerves concurrently. The condition has been linked to several underlying medical conditions. Often, there is no apparent cause. This condition affects about 20 million people in the United States.
Causes of peripheral neuropathy
Many factors can cause peripheral neuropathies, which usually makes it hard to ascertain its origin. Neuropathies can happen due to any of the following factors.
Acquired neuropathies are the result of environmental elements, including trauma, toxins, illness or infection. Common examples of acquired neuropathies include:
- Poor nutrition or nutrient deficiency
- Several inherited diseases
- Certain types of cancer and chemotherapy treatments
- Certain drugs
- Kidney or thyroid disease
- Infections such as shingles, Lyme disease or AIDS
- Conditions that cause the body’s immune system to attack the nerves erroneously or damage them due to an overaggressive reaction to injury
Hereditary neuropathies are relatively rare and are passed genetically from parent to offspring. The most common example is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type one, caused by the deterioration of the insulation that encompasses the nerves and aids in conducting electrical impulses required to initiate muscle movement.
Idiopathic neuropathies are from an unspecified cause. Up to one-third of all neuropathy cases belong to this category.
Patients may experience symptoms such as:
- Burning sensation in the feet and hands
- Numbness and tingling in fingers, toes, hands and feet
- Feebleness in the hands
- Loss of dexterity
- Leg weakness or cramps
- Wasting of muscles
The pain caused by peripheral neuropathy can make it hard to move, exercise or sleep. Lack of exercise may eventually worsen the weakness. This issue is common in diabetic patients, but other origins should be considered, like vascular damage.
Treatments for peripheral neuropathy
Many treatments exist to alleviate symptoms, help with pain relief and reverse nerve damage. The doctor will try to find a treatment option that works best for the patient, including over-the-counter drugs, prescriptions or alternative treatments.
Over-the-counter pain relievers are the most commonly bought drugs. They are often effective for mild to moderate neuropathy pain. The two main types include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin. When over-the-counter drugs are not effective for the pain, the doctor may recommend prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, narcotics and topical medications.
The major disadvantage of medications is that they simply mask the symptoms and often come with various side effects. Alternative treatments include:
Stem cell therapy
Also known as regenerative medicine, this treatment helps the body regenerate damaged tissues, cells and bones, especially nerve cells. Stem cells are capable of developing into other cells, and injecting them into patients can initiate healing in affected areas.
The blood’s platelets are highly effective repair cells. A small sample of the blood is taken and processed to distillate platelets in the clear plasma of the cell. The PRP is then returned to the body to stop pain and weakness.
Other alternative treatments available are spinal decompression, fitness and weight-loss coaching and acupuncture.
The essence of every treatment for peripheral neuropathy is to help patients get back to their usual routine and restore their quality of life without debilitating pain and dysfunctionality. If you are experiencing symptoms of this condition, do not hesitate to reach out to a health care provider for treatment.
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