Are you familiar with peripheral neuropathy? I’m not surprised if you answer “no.” Despite affecting nearly 20 million people in the U.S. alone, there is still a lot of unknowns when it comes to this neurological condition. Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder that occurs when the nerves that connect your central nervous system (brain and spine) to the rest of your body malfunction because they’re damaged or destroyed. For instance, if you have ever leaned on your elbow for too long, you have experienced transient numbness and tingling in your last two fingers, which resolved after briefly shaking out your arm. This is due to transient compression of your ulnar nerve at your elbow and is a normal event. But imagine that these symptoms never resolve—this is what patients with peripheral neuropathy experience all the time.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include: numbness and/or tingling in the hands or feet as well as weakness in the arms or legs, stabbing or shooting pain, thinning of the skin, sexual dysfunction, difficulty maintaining normal blood pressure and heart rate, constipation and other digestive difficulties, and excessive sweating.
There are a variety of factors and underlying conditions that can lead to peripheral neuropathy. They include the following: diabetes; vitamin deficiencies; autoimmune diseases; thyroid disease; certain infections, such as shingles or Lyme disease; toxins, such as glue, solvents, or insecticides; alcohol abuse; trauma; certain medications; genetics; high blood pressure, and obesity. The treatment is based on the underlying cause. For example, tight control of blood sugar would be necessary for a diabetic with peripheral neuropathy, while those with vitamin deficiencies are treated with appropriate vitamin supplementation. Prescription medications can be used to control pain.
The neurologist will also perform a nerve conduction velocity study and electromyography, which is a computerized test that uses electrical stimulation to determine if your nerves and muscles are functioning normally. Other exams might include a sudomotor sympathetic response test to detect damage to the small nerves that innervate sweat glands in your hands and feet.
The good news is that there are treatments that can help slow the progression of this condition and limit the damage. For instance, anodyne therapy utilizes monochromatic infrared energy to release nitric oxide from the patient’s red blood cells to improve nerve function, stimulate new blood vessels, and heal wounds. Physical therapy can also help, as can Plasmapheresis, which is a medical treatment to remove antibodies in the bloodstream, and the medical food Percura, an all-natural dietary supplement.
If you have peripheral neuropathy, it’s important to identify the treatment that will work best for you. Talk to your doctors about your symptoms and your options!
Lori Schneider is a board-certified neurologist at Lakeside Neurology, 19615 Liverpool Pkwy., Suite A, in Cornelius. She offers patients a more natural way to achieve good health. For more information, contact 704.896.5591, or visit www.drlorischneider.com and www.drlorischneiderstore.com.