Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a group of nerve conditions that can lead to pain, numbness or tingling in one or more parts of the body. There are many different causes of neuropathy, one of the most common being diabetes. Often its symptoms can be treated following consultation with your doctor.

What is neuropathy?

Neuropathy is term that refers to damage of the nerves. The damage may be because of disease, infection, injury, medications, long term alcohol abuse or another reason.

Types of neuropathy

Different types of neuropathy are named according to the body part affected, the cause of nerve damage or the number of nerves affected.

Autonomic neuropathy occurs when there is damage to the nerves that control the body’s automatic functions, such as digestion, blood pressure and bladder function.

Diabetic neuropathy is caused by diabetes most commonly affects the nerves of of the hands and the feet. It can also affect nerves controlling automatic functions of the body, such as digestion, or nerves in the hips and thighs.

Peripheral neuropathy affects nerves in outer (peripheral) parts of the body such as the feet, legs, hands and arms.

Proximal neuropathy affects the muscles of the hips and the shoulders.

Focal or mononeuropathy affects only one nerve. An example is carpal tunnel syndrome.

Polyneuropathy affects several nerves. Most people with neuropathy have polyneuropathy.

What causes neuropathy?

There are many known causes of neuropathy, including:

  • diseases like diabetes, Guillain-Barre syndrome and AIDS
  • long term alcohol abuse
  • chemotherapy and radiation
  • vitamin deficiencies
  • some medications
  • spinal tumours
  • pressure on a nerve

Sometimes, a cause can’t be found.

Neuropathy symptoms

The symptoms depend on the nerves involved.

It can cause sensations in your affected body area, such as:

  • pain, which is often worse at night
  • weakness
  • numbness
  • tingling, or ‘pins and needles’
  • a burning sensation

Autonomic neuropathy can cause changes in your digestion, bowel and bladder function, or sexual response. Proximal neuropathy can cause pain and weakness in hips and thighs.

Neuropathy diagnosis

Your doctor will ask you questions and examine you. You might be asked to have tests to measure the electrical activity in your nerves.

Neuropathy treatment

Treatment for neuropathy depends on the cause – if it is a medication, you may need to change your medicines.

When disease is the cause, treatment usually involves better control of that disease. For diabetes, blood sugar needs to be tightly controlled. This may mean changes in medications, diet or exercise.

If a cause for your neuropathy can’t be found, medications and physical and psychological therapies may improve your symptoms.