Let’s Talk About Neuropathy: What it is and How to Manage It

May 12th through May 16th is National Neuropathy Awareness Week in this country. During that week supporters will be trying to raise consciousness about exactly what neuropathy is and what can be done to handle it. A great many people are affected by neuropathy, and don’t do anything about it simply because they’re unaware of its causes and how it may be affecting them.

While there are several types of neuropathy, the most common type is peripheral neuropathy, so-called because its primary impact is felt in the hands, arms, legs, and feet. It can cause a tingling sensation or numbness, and it can also be painful, depending on how far advanced the condition is. In this article, we’ll discuss exactly what neuropathy is, and how to go about treating it.

What is neuropathy?

All four types of neuropathy affect the nerves of your body in various ways. It is possible for an afflicted person to have multiple types of neuropathy at the same time, but all of them will impact the nerves of the body. In the case of the most common type, peripheral neuropathy, the movement and the feeling in the body’s limbs are what get affected the most.

The nerves of the body either become damaged or are affected by a disease such as diabetes that the patient may have. It is far more common to have neuropathy affect the peripheral systems of the body, as opposed to the central nervous system, where the brain or spine would be affected. It is estimated that at any given time, there are probably about 20 million individuals in the US who are affected by neuropathy.

Managing neuropathy

Managing neuropathy generally involves a focus on preventing nerve damage as well as damage to the myelin, which is a fatty layer that protects the body’s nerves. In order to do this, it’s necessary to control whatever underlying cause is responsible for the damage. Your body is able to renew myelin, so if damage to the myelin surrounding your nerves can be stopped or repaired, neuropathy can be managed fairly efficiently. In order to stop the damage from occurring, some of the following steps may be necessary:

  • controlling blood sugar levels, so as to prevent the progress of diabetic neuropathy
  • avoiding the consumption of alcohol to slow or stop the progress of alcohol-associated neuropathy
  • undergoing surgery to treat compression, such as is the case with ulnar neuropathy or carpal tunnel syndrome
  • going to physical therapy, getting more rest, and wearing splints can all be successful treatments in managing neuropathy caused by pressure, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • making use of anti-inflammatory medications that will reduce the amount of damage done to the nerves and the myelin. This can be especially effective when neuropathy is caused by some kind of systemic inflammatory situation.

There are no known treatments that will help nerves to heal, but physical therapy can be a primary treatment in improving motor functions because it helps you to avoid injuries by maximizing your abilities, and adapting your capabilities to current circumstances.

Symptomatic treatment

For many people, there is a significant amount of pain associated with neuropathy, and that can hinder a person’s ability to be active, as well as impact their quality of life. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to heal or prevent damage to the nerves or the myelin layer, and it also cannot stem the progress of neuropathy. There are a number of medications frequently used to manage and control neuropathic pain, primarily anti-depressants, and anti-epileptic drugs.

These types of medications have the ability to impact nerve activity such that pain can be minimized and controlled. It will generally be necessary for such medications to be taken multiple times during the day in order to experience continuous pain relief. Over a period of time, the level of neuropathic pain experienced by a person can increase, which means it might be necessary to increase the dosage of whatever medication you’re using. Standard pain medications generally are not effective in treating neuropathic pain, and it will therefore be necessary to use medications that specifically aim at managing this type of pain. 

Whatever program of treatment is undertaken, it’s very important to identify the cause of the neuropathy, so that the most effective treatment program can be used. If left untreated, neuropathy will almost always progress and worsen, with a greater impact on the body’s nerves. If neuropathy is allowed to continue unabated, it will generally cause severe nerve damage, and the patient will experience a loss of functionality in the limbs of the body. As soon as neuropathy is suspected, it is therefore very important to consult with your doctor about the appropriate program for treatment, so that it can be effectively managed.

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