What Is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy, often called peripheral neuropathy, is a result of damage to the nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves). Neuropathy can affect one nerve (mononeuropathy such as carpal tunnel syndrome) or many peripheral nerves throughout the body (polyneuropathy). In the US, diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy. Other common causes include alcoholism, chemotherapy, trauma, and autoimmune diseases.
Common Neuropathy Symptoms
The best way to prevent peripheral neuropathy is to manage medical conditions that put you at risk, such as diabetes, alcoholism, or rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment for peripheral neuropathy may include:
- Medications: Antidepressants such as nortriptyline and duloxetine, Anti-seizure medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or pregabalin (Lyrica) have been shown to be affective at treating the pain associated with peripheral neuropathy. Narcotic medications are not usually used for neuropathy pain due to limited evidence that they are helpful for this condition.
- Physical therapy uses a combination of focused exercise, massage and other treatments to help you increase your strength, balance and range of motion.
- Adopting healthy living habits, including exercising to improve muscle strength, controlling blood sugar, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol intake.
Peripheral neuropathy can be diagnosed by your doctor by performing a thorough history and physical exam. Your doctor will perform a detailed neurologic exam to check your reflexes, muscle strength and tone, sensation, and balance. Other diagnostic workup may include:
- Electrodiagnostic testing (EDx) which includes Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) and Electromyogram (EMG). This test measures how fast and how strong the electrical activity is in a nerve and muscle. The test can tell whether a nerve or muscle has been damaged.
- Blood work and imaging tests: Blood work can reveal vitamin/mineral or electrolyte imbalances, diabetes, thyroid problems, exposure to toxic substances, and antibodies present in certain autoimmune diseases.
- Genetic testing:A genetic test may be ordered if your doctor suspects a genetic condition is causing your neuropathy