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Understanding Peripheral Neuropathy

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Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves are damaged, causing weakness, tingling, and numbness in the hands and feet. Read on to learn more about the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and how this condition is treated.

What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?

The most common cause of this condition is type 2 diabetes, though it can also be triggered by traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems, and exposure to toxins. When the nerves are damaged, the signals that they send to the rest of the body are altered, causing complications. Those who abuse alcohol, have a family history of peripheral neuropathy, have vitamin deficiencies, or are infected with Lyme disease, shingles (varicella-zoster), hepatitis C and HIV are at an increased risk. Others with an increased risk include those with an autoimmune, kidney, liver, or thyroid disease, or who perform repetitive motion in the workplace are more susceptible to this condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy?

In addition to the characteristic numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, people with this condition may also experience stabbing or burning pain, extreme sensitivity to touch in the affected areas, lack of coordination and frequent falls, muscle weakness or paralysis, inability to tolerate heat, bowel, bladder, or digestive problems, and changes in blood pressure.

How Is Peripheral Neuropathy Treated?

Some medications can treat the symptoms of this condition, including over the counter pain relievers, anti-seizure medications, capsaicin cream, and some antidepressants. Therapies your doctor may recommend include transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin, which can be useful for those whose neuropathy is caused by inflammation, physical therapy, and surgery. At home, you can manage the condition by taking good care of your feet, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, eating nutritious meals, and monitoring your blood glucose level if you have diabetes.

What Should I Do If I Have Neuropathy?

It’s important to see a doctor right away if you are experiencing the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. Your doctor will perform a full medical history and neurological exam including diagnostic tests like CT and MRI, a nerve function test called electromyography and other similar tests, nerve biopsy, and skin biopsy. If left untreated, the condition can lead to burns, injuries, and infection. This is especially true when the feet are affected, since minor injuries are common and will take longer to heal for those with neuropathy. A foot doctor can help examine your feet regularly and treat any blisters, calluses, or minor wounds that may be a cause for concern.

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