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Peripheral Neuropathy: Diagnosis & Treatments

Peripheral Neuropathy: Diagnosis & Treatments

Peripheral neuropathy is the term used for disorders that are caused by damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system. 

The peripheral nervous system connects nerves from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. Including, but not limited to, the arms, legs and feet, joints, eyes, nose, and even the skin. Peripheral neuropathy is when nerves are damaged and are unable to send messages from the brain to other parts of the body. This damage can cause numbness or pain in these affected areas. 

Peripheral neuropathy can be separated into two categories: polyneuropathy and mononeuropathy. People most commonly suffer from polyneuropathy. 

How is Peripheral Neuropathy Diagnosed?

There are many symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, such as numbness and tingling, severe sensitivity to touch, lack of coordination, and weakness, to name a few. Because the variety of symptoms is so vast, it can be difficult to diagnose this condition. 

A diagnosis program typically includes a review of your medical history, a physical and neurological exam, and blood work and diagnostic testing. 

Other tests that can be used to test for peripheral neuropathic diseases are imaging tests, nerve and skin biopsies, and nerve function tests. 

Types of Treatments Available

Your doctor will recommend a treatment type based on the type of nerve damage, symptoms you display, and the area that is affected. With the guidance of a pain management specialist, you may be able to manage your neuropathic pain and reduce medications. As long as the nerve cell has not died, consistent and definitive treatment allows for a function recovery over time. 

Treating Underlying Causes

By correcting the underlying cause of your neuropathy, it can many times heal itself and the nerves can recover and regrow. Simple lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet, and taking vitamin supplements can improve nerve health. Exercise delivers more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to nerve endings, therefore improving muscle strength and preventing muscular atrophy. Controlling glucose levels has also been shown to reduce neuropathic symptoms and help people with diabetes avoid nerve damage. 

If your peripheral neuropathy is caused by an autoimmune disease or inflammation, symptoms can be controlled by using medications like prednisone. A procedure that involves stripping your blood of immune system cells and antibodies, called plasmapheresis, helps reduce inflammation or subdue immune system activity. 

Using Medications

When your peripheral neuropathy is not caused by an underlying disease, medications can be used to minimize symptoms. 

Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal cord stimulators (SCS) have been used to treat pain for over 50 years. The implanted device transmits therapeutic electrical signals to provide a therapeutic effect. Neuropathic pain is caused by damaged tissue and nerves. Spinal cord stimulators are surgically placed under the skin. They send mild electrical signals to the spinal cord and nerve fibers. These signals mask pain signals before they are able to reach the brain. 

Therapies to Treat Peripheral Neuropathy

Therapy that helps ease the pain of peripheral neuropathy include:

Surgery for Peripheral Neuropathy

For some types of neuropathies, surgery is the recommended treatment option. Pinched nerves or conditions that compress nerve roots are generally treated with surgery in order to free the damaged nerve and allow for proper healing. Mononeuropathy that is caused by compression or infections often require surgery to release pressure on the nerve. 

Polyneuropathies such as diabetic neuropathy is not treated with surgery. In fact, if you suffer from polyneuropathy, surgery could potentially make your pain worse. Surgery that involves cutting or injuring the nerve can cause damage to the central nervous system. This has been known to cause phantom pain. 

With the evolution of technology, less damaging procedures such as electrical stimulation has replaced surgery to treat peripheral neuropathy. 

References: 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352067

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Peripheral-Neuropathy-Fact-Sheet#3208_5

https://www.foundationforpn.org/what-is-peripheral-neuropathy/causes/

https://www.foundationforpn.org/what-is-peripheral-neuropathy/treatments/

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