A neuropathy is a condition that affects the peripheral nerves located outside the central nervous system (the brain and the spine). Peripheral neuropathies can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, underlying medical conditions like multiple sclerosis or diabetes, accidents, and traumatic injuries, repetitive use injuries that cause nerves to become irritated, or pressure from herniated discs or other structures. Many neuropathies develop with no known or identifiable cause.
Neuropathies can cause symptoms along the entire pathway of an affected nerve, including nerves passing through the arms, hands, legs, feet, back, and shoulders. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include:
In very severe neuropathies, the bladder or bowel muscles can be affected, and incontinence may develop. In other patients, walking and balance may be affected and grip strength and coordination may suffer. Symptoms can be chronic and persistent or they may be intermittent in nature.
Neuropathies caused by underlying conditions like diabetes may be resolved by treating that condition. Some types of neuropathic pain can be eliminated or reduced with medication, often in tandem with physical therapy to improve flexibility and stimulate healing. In patients with persistent symptoms that don't respond well to these conservative approaches, spinal cord stimulation can be effective in blocking pain signals and providing patients with pain relief without surgery or long-term use of medication. Prior to treatment, nerve conduction studies may be used to determine where the pain originates and diagnostic imaging like x-rays or CT scans can also help in identifying the most appropriate treatment. A thorough patient history can be useful in diagnosing neuropathies caused by past accidents or traumatic events or from prolonged exposure to toxins at work or elsewhere. Seeing a doctor at the first sign of nerve pain or related symptoms is important for preventing the condition from becoming worse.
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