Peripheral Neuropathy impacts more than 20 million Americans but many of us may not even know what it is. According to neuropathy.org, this condition costs Medicare in excess of $3.5 billion per year yet precious little attention is given to neuropathy in public health discussions.
The severity of neuropathy can run the gamut from occasional bouts with discomfort to absolutely debilitating pain and, when left unchecked, may even result in amputation. This is why it’s so critical to create greater awareness about a common but often unrecognized condition. With early detection and therapy, neuropathy’s underlying causes may be targeted with treatment and lifestyle changes.
Neuropathy: What Is It?
You’re probably wondering how a condition so common and costly could slip under the radar. This is probably because neuropathy is so often a secondary diagnosis, typically connected to a more encompassing condition such as cancer, kidney failure or diabetes, the last of which is responsible for roughly 30% of cases.
What’s more, according to neuropathy.org, another 30% of sufferers may experience neuropathy without ever knowing why. This form is known at idiopathic neuropathy. Whatever its cause, its impact may be considerable. A form of nerve-damage impacting parts of the body outside the central nervous system, you are most likely to notice its effect on the extremities. Weakness, numbness, tingling and pain may surface in your hands and feet.
You Can Manage Your Risk Factors
Now that you know what it is, how can you prevent it? First you should know the risk factors. Those with diabetes are at the highest risk for the Diabetic form of Neuropathy. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse recommends that if you do have diabetes, you should be sure to see your doctor regularly for examination relating to neuropathy. In particular, you should schedule a foot exam at least once a year to monitor for the onset or advance of peripheral neuropathy.
Neuropathy Comes In Different Shapes and Sizes
Symptoms and causes aside, peripheral neuropathy is also tricky because it impacts different nerve systems differently. According to Medical News Today, the three main types of nerves that can be impacted are:
- Autonomic nerves, which regulate unconscious functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and sweating;
- Motor nerves, which relate to muscle function and conscious movement; and
- Sensory nerves, which provide information to your brain regarding physical sensations.
Neuropathy is a Single Disease
One common misconception is that neuropathy is a single disease with a clear range of symptoms. However, according to Medical News Today, it may be more like a syndrome. It is defined by a range of symptoms that will vary from one patient to another. Because it is most often a condition that emerges as a consequence of some underlying disease, the makeup of neuropathy is likely to depend on your general health, the nature of your primary condition and how you manage both.
Neuropathy Can Be Cured
There may also be some confusion as to the treatment or curing of neuropathy. According to neuropathy.org, it is possible to cure some cases through early detection and immediate therapeutic intervention. This makes it extremely important to speak to an experienced and qualified neurologist as soon as symptoms surface.
However, in the vast majority of cases, a cure will not be possible. Instead, management of the primary condition and secondary symptoms will be advised. For instance, The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse points out that most treatments for Diabetic Neuropathy will center on bringing your blood glucose levels into a normal, healthy range.
Beyond that, treatment will generally revolve on pain-management. This may include the administering of oral pain medication or anti-depressants.
In any case, neuropathy is a condition that can be managed with the proper therapeutic intervention. Therefore, if you fall into a risk category or find yourself experiencing inexplicable sensations in your extremities, go see your neurologist right away!