If you're living with peripheral neuropathy, you're not alone. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, over 20 million Americans suffer from some form of neuropathy. While poorly managed blood sugar due to diabetes is the best-known cause of peripheral neuropathy, several other medical conditions can also lead to this form of nerve damage.
About Peripheral Neuropathy and the Body’s Sensory Nerves
Peripheral neuropathy develops when the nerves that carry signals from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body are damaged. Your peripheral nerves extend from your brain and spinal cord to your arms, hands, legs, and feet. They allow you to feel heat, cold, and pain. They also help control your muscles.
If you damage the peripheral nervous system, symptoms can be mild and/or totally disabling. They can develop over days, weeks, or years, which is why it's important to be aware of your personal risk of developing the condition and seek prompt treatment when symptoms first become noticeable.
Common Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
- Pain. This is often described as a burning, shooting, or sharp pain.
- Tingling. People with peripheral neuropathy often report a pins-and-needles feeling in their extremities.
- Numbness. A loss of feeling in the affected area is common when you have peripheral neuropathy.
- Weakness. Peripheral neuropathy typically leads to a general loss of muscle strength.
- Difficulty walking. This can be caused by weakness or loss of feeling in the feet.
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy Other Than Diabetes
While it’s true that approximately 70% of people with diabetes develop nerve damage, diabetes isn’t the only disease or illness that can cause peripheral neuropathy. Anyone can suffer from this condition, and there are many possible root causes.
Heavy alcohol use can lead to several health problems, including nerve damage. Alcoholism can cause both direct and indirect damage to the nerves. Direct damage is caused by the toxic effect of alcohol on nerve cells. Indirect damage occurs when alcoholism leads to other conditions—such as vitamin deficiencies—that can contribute to nerve damage.
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for cancer. However, chemotherapy can also cause damage to the nerves. This damage most often occurs in the hands and feet and can result in pain, tingling, and numbness. If you are undergoing chemotherapy, it is important to be aware of the potential for developing peripheral neuropathy.
Certain infections can cause damage to the nerves. These include Lyme disease, HIV, and shingles. When an infection is causing peripheral neuropathy, you might have a fever or swollen lymph nodes in addition to pain, tingling, numbness, weakness, and difficulty walking.
Some inherited disorders can lead to nerve damage, including Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder, sarcoidosis, and celiac disease. If you have a family history of any of these disorders, you may be at high risk for developing damage to the body’s sensory nerves.
Exposure to Toxins
Exposure to toxins is often overlooked as a potential cause of nerve damage. Toxins can include heavy metals such as lead or mercury and chemicals such as pesticides. If you were exposed to toxins at work or at home, you should be aware of the potential for developing peripheral neuropathy.
Kidney disease can also lead to nerve damage. The kidneys play a vital role in filtering toxins from the body. When kidney function is impaired, these toxins can build up and cause damage to the nerves. If you have kidney disease, you have a higher risk of developing peripheral neuropathy.
Trauma to the Nerves
Trauma to the nerves can happen from an injury or surgery. When the nerve is damaged, it can cause pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness.
Vitamin B12 and folate are two vitamins that are essential for nerve health. A deficiency in either of these vitamins can lead to peripheral neuropathy. If you suspect that you may be deficient in either of these vitamins, you may need to make dietary changes or begin taking vitamin supplements.
In some cases, the cause of peripheral neuropathy is unknown. This is often true in idiopathic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that occurs without an apparent cause. Experts estimate that 30% of peripheral neuropathy cases are idiopathic.
How a Podiatrist Can Help if You Have Peripheral Neuropathy
If you are experiencing any symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, you should see a podiatrist for a full evaluation. A podiatrist can help identify the underlying cause of your neuropathy and recommend treatment options that may help improve your symptoms.
Your treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. However, treatment typically involves a combination of medication (to relieve pain and other symptoms), physical therapy (to improve muscle strength and coordination), custom orthotics (to minimize stress on the feet while gently stimulating the nerves), and lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking or losing weight).
In some cases, surgery may be necessary. Targeted Muscle Reinnervation is a surgery that can help alleviate pain from peripheral neuropathy by taking wayward nerve endings and connecting them to existing nerves to “connect the circuit” and stop the painful sensation that occurs when severed nerves have nowhere to grow.
If you are at risk for developing peripheral neuropathy but have no current symptoms, your podiatrist can help you take steps to prevent the condition from developing. Preventative care can include monitoring for signs and symptoms of nerve damage, making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk factors, and taking supplements or medications to protect your nerves.
Are You Looking for a Peripheral Neuropathy Specialist in Austin, TX?
If you are looking for nerve pain care, you should reach out to an experienced podiatrist. Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists can help. Our office provides a wide variety of advanced, effective treatment options for all kinds of painful conditions. Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact us online or call our Austin office at 512.328.8900