Simple Answers About Neuropathy

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Neuropathy is a medical term describing disorders of the nerves. Nerves are messengers - they carry information from your body to the central nervous system and back out to your body. Your central nervous system is made up of your brain, nerve cord, and spinal cord. Your central nervous system cannot function without the messages it receives from your peripheral nervous system, which is the other major nervous system in your body.

In this video, an expert explains neuropathy

Peripheral Nervous System

The peripheral nervous system includes nerves that are on the outside or periphery of the central nervous system. Peripheral nerves reach out from the spinal column through your body and all the way into your fingers and toes. Peripheral nerves affect everything from breathing to digesting to urination to how things feel when you touch them. When working properly, your peripheral nervous system will tell you that your extremities are cold or that they have touched something too hot. This happens in microseconds. You put your finger on a hot stove, the nerves in your finger race to your central nervous system with the message: HOT! Your brain sends back the message...MOVE AWAY! And you pull your hand back. This is just one of the many ways your nervous system helps you.

Parts of the Peripheral Nervous System

The peripheral nervous system is divided into the somatic nervous system, the enteric nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system.

The somatic nervous system regulates activities that you consciously control. It receives messages from external sources and coordinates how your body responds.

The enteric nervous system manages every aspect of digestion, from your esophagus to your colon.

The autonomic nervous system is further broken down into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The autonomic nervous system is automatic. It is not something that you can consciously control. The sympathetic nervous system is the part that responds to intense situations and causes your heart rate to increase, blood presure to rise, and feelings of excitement, fear, or nervousness. The parasympathetic nervous system is laid back. It comes into play when you are relaxed and it causes your pupils to dilate, your heart rate to slow and for you to feel relaxed and rested.

As you can see, your nervous system has very important functions in your body. And like all other parts of your body, things can go wrong.

A picture of the human nervous system shows what neuropathy affects

Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy

About 30% of all cases of peripheral neuropathy is caused by diabetes. About 40% of the cases are caused by a variety of autoimmune disorders, tumors, heredity, nutritional imbalances, infections or toxins. The remaining 30% of peripheral neuropathy cases stem from as yet, unknown causes.

Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy usually begins with numbness, prickling or tingling in the fingers or toes. This numbness may spread up to the hands or feet and feel like burning, freezing, throbbing and/or shooting pain that is often worse at night. .

The pain can be constant or sporadic. Some types of peripheral neuropathy have a sudden onset, and others can take years to become a problem.

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include the following:

  • Burning sensation or freezing pain
  • Skin is extremely sensitive to touch
  • Sharp, jabbing pain
  • Difficulty sleeping due to pain in feet and legs
  • Unusual sweating
  • Feeling like you are wearing a glove or sock
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Abnormalities in blood pressure or pulse
Symptoms will depend on the type of peripheral nerves that have been damaged and what the damage is.

Treatment of Peripheral Neuropathy

While some types of neuropathy can be cured, most cannot be. However, the symptoms can be treated. Your physician will want to do tests to determine the cause of your neuropathy. The source needs to be treated to prevent further damage and hopefully to lessen your current symptoms.

In addition to addressing the underlying problem (which may be diabetes, toxins, medication, etc), your physician can try different medical solutions for addressing your symptoms. Depending on what your symptoms are, these solutions could include anti-depressants, seizure medication, pain relievers or a lidocaine patch. Remember, while a particular drug is most often used for certain situations, it may have been found to help with other situations as well. Your physician will know which medication is right for you.