What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy can be defined as damage or dysfunction of nerves that typically result in tingling, numbness, muscle weakness and pain in affected areas. It typically starts in your feet and hands, but other body parts can be affected as well.
Neuropathy occurs when nerve cells are damaged or destroyed. When this happens, it disrupts the way neurons communicate with one another and the brain. There are multiple forms of neuropathy:
1. Mononeuropathy - This type of neuropathy occurs when one nerve or nerve type is affected.
2. Multifocal Neuropathy- This type of neuropathy occurs when a combination of nerves in one area is affected.
3. Polyneuropathy - This type of neuropathy occurs and when peripheral nerves (sensory nerves, motor nerves or autonomic nerves) throughout the body are affected.
The type of symptoms one may experience depend on the type of nerve that is dysfunctional or damaged.
What does Neuropathy feel like?
The most commonly described feelings of neuropathy are sensations of “pins and needles” where there is tingling, numbness and feelings of weakness in areas of the body that are affected.
Other sensations can include (but are not limited to) throbbing, stabbing-pain, burning, low blood pressure, muscle cramping, muscle weakness, extreme sensitivity to touch, loss of coordination and changes in sensation.
How common is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is much more common than one may think. It’s estimated that 30% of Americans will experience neuropathy at some point in their life, and while it can affect people at any age, older people are at an increased risk.
Diabetes is the leading cause of neuropathy in the United States, with an estimated 70% of those with diabetes experiencing some type of neuropathy. Learn more about diabetic foot care here.
Neuropathy can also be caused by high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, autoimmune disorders, tumours, infections, bone marrow disorders, injuries, heavy alcohol use and those receiving chemotherapy.
People in professions that require repetitive physical motions have a greater chance of developing neuropathy from compression of nerves or injury.
How to treat Neuropathy
Fortunately, some cases of neuropathy can be easily treated and sometimes cured. However, not all can be cured and the focus is on the treatment of symptoms and preventing further nerve damage. Treatment options include, but are not limited to:
1. Medicines to control pain
2. Physical therapy focused on massage and balance
4. Medical aids such as diabetic socks, braces or specially designed shoes
5. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits
How to prevent Neuropathy
You can help reduce your risks of developing neuropathy by adopting healthy lifestyle habits and treating existing medical problems. Below are some tips that support healthy nerve health:
1. Take care of your feet - If you have diabetes or blood flow issues, check your feet everyday for sores, blisters, cuts, redness or cracking skin. Wear proper fitting footwear and diabetic socks to keep your feet comfortable and healthy, and protect your feet from the heat or cold. Dr. Segal’s has created Diabetic Socks that are perfect for those who experience symptoms of neuropathy.
2. Avoid Tobacco - Smoking constricts blood vessels that provide nutrients to nerves and nerve cells, which can lead to developing neuropathy. Take care of your nerve health by quitting smoking.
3. Review your Medications - Some medications and over-the-counter drugs are known to cause or advance symptoms of neuropathy. Talk to your doctor to see which medications are right for you, and if different medications can be tried.
4. Manage your Diabetes - For those with diabetes, manage your blood glucose levels within the recommended range. Always talk to your doctor about how to best manage your diabetes.