Many people who suffer from nerve pain have questions about neuropathy: what is it, how is it diagnosed, how is it treated, and other things that you’d imagine someone dealing with chronic pain might want to know.
We’ve compiled a list of answers to some of the more frequently asked questions concerning diabetic neuropathy, as well as providing links to a few additional resources, where more in-depth information may be found. Did we miss something? Do you have any comments or concerns about our approach? Please feel free to contact us with your feedback. If something has been particularly helpful to you, or to someone you know, in managing chronic nerve pain, let us know about it!
What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is a blanket term for a wide range of conditions which affect the nervous system. Collectively speaking, it is regarded as a common medical condition, with as many as 20 million Americans suffering from peripheral neuropathy alone. This condition impacts the ability of the nervous system to communicate between the body’s extremities and the brain as a result of direct damage caused to the nerves themselves. Most forms of neuropathy involve symptoms such as pain or discomfort, while a few can result in sensory loss, a compromised immune system, and other serious side-effects.
How is Neuropathy Contracted?
Neuropathy rises as a result of damage or disease affecting the body’s nervous system, almost always as a complication resulting from another long-term medical condition—which may in itself be asymptomatic and unknown to the sufferer. In America, it most commonly piggybacks on type 2 diabetes, where it causes progressive damage over time, passing unnoticed in up to 50% of patients until it hits an advanced stage.
Neuropathy can also arise from severe, long-term deficiency of vital nutrients, such as vitamin B12. It may result from the use of certain drugs, exposure to various toxins or poisons, certain types of cancer, alcoholism, kidney disease (and other conditions affecting the internal organs), and infected injuries. About 30% of all cases of neuropathy are unexplained, but are likely due to underlying conditions which are themselves asymptomatic for long periods of time.
How Many Types of Neuropathy Are There?
There are many different types of neuropathy, and they’re classified according to a variety of factors. For example, focal neuropathy—one of the diabetic neuropathies—is a form of neuropathy that affects a single group of nerves. For this reason, it is sometimes called “mononeuropathy,” while “polyneuropathy” characterizes variations on the condition which affect multiple nerves.
Diabetic neuropathy characterizes the four types of neuropathy that are most commonly associated with diabetes—peripheral, proximal, autonomic, and focal. Proximal neuropathy involves muscle weakness in the thighs and upper legs, and is usually less painful than peripheral. It is common in elderly diabetes patients, and (due to being curable) is sometimes underappreciated in terms of the suffering and inconvenience that it poses.
Autonomic neuropathy involves the nerves which regulate the body’s autonomic systems—such as blood pressure, digestion, and sensory perception.
What are the Symptoms of Neuropathy?
These vary widely depending upon the type of neuropathy involved, but the most common and regularly characterized symptom is that of nerve pain. Nerve pain involves recurring bouts of pain in specific parts of the body, occurring with significant regularity—and usually at night. It presents at varying levels of severity, and usually takes the form of a sharp, stinging burn—feeling as though the afflicted individual is being poked with hot thumbtacks.
Other symptoms of neuropathy include uncomfortable, but comparatively mild sensations, such as pins and needles, tingling, or numbness. Episodes of weakness in specific muscles are common; proximal neuropathy is almost entirely characterized by this symptom, and is one of the forms of neuropathy to be curable. Because it affects the nervous system, neuropathy commonly affects balance, coordination, and mobility. Autonomic neuropathy may affect the function of the body’s immune system, digestion, or sensory organs; this is one of the forms of neuropathy that results in blindness as a frequent complication of diabetes, but its effects are almost always limited to a specific organ or system.
How is Neuropathy Diagnosed?
A wide range of tests may be used to diagnose neuropathy.
For peripheral neuropathy, as well as other diabetic neuropathies, a doctor will want to examine their patient’s personal and family medical history (to the extent that such is possible). There will also be some combination of blood tests, other common medical examinations, and neurological testing to determine the overall function of the nervous system.
Is Neuropathy Curable?
Few types of neuropathy can be “cured” outright. Among the diabetic neuropathies, only proximal neuropathy is curable. Instead, doctors focus on managing the symptoms, and on the implementation of lifestyle changes to help prevent the condition from growing worse. Neuropathy management involves a multi-pronged strategy, but it is possible to lead a normal life despite suffering from neuropathy.
How is Neuropathy Treated?
Nerve pain is most often medically treated through the use of over-the-counter painkillers. In cases of extreme pain or other discomfort, two other methods of pain management may be prescribed: prescription-strength painkillers, taken as a regular regimen, and antidepressants, which help to manage the chemical signals that the brain is using to transmit the pain impulse. Other forms of treatment involve electrical stimulation, which is used to counter those electrical signals in the nervous system that are also contributing to the pain signal.
How to Manage Neuropathy Symptoms Naturally?
The body uses many different nutrients to help ensure a healthy nervous system, and one of the frequent causes of neuropathy is the loss of these nutrients due to the underlying condition that contributes to the disease. Nutrients such as magnesium, and the B-Complex vitamins like Methyl-B12, are all vital to maintaining a healthy nervous system. One of the ways to help manage nerve pain naturally is to ensure dietary practices or supplementation to maintain the necessary daily allowance of such nutrients. Supplements such as Nerve Renew incorporate variations of the B-Complex vitamins, like benfotiamine, which are readily absorbed by the body over long-term release—ensuring that more of these vital substances get to where they are needed.