Neuropathy

The word 'neuro' relates to our nerves. Neuropathy describes damage to the nerves from a number of different causes. Tingling, numbness and feelings of weakness are symptoms of nerve damage that can indicate an underlying problem. Neuralgia and neuritis also describe nerve pain, but not nerve damage. Read more about these conditions below.

Neuropathy

Neuropathy is nerve damage. The cause of this may be a number of things, from direct damage (i.e. lacerations, compressions etc), to medical and genetic conditions (e.g. diabetes), inflammation and inflammatory diseases, strokes, shingles, HIV, and exposure to radiation (including chemotherapy treatment). This may also sometimes be called peripheral neuropathy, with 'peripheral' simply referring to the damage occurring to a part of the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord.

Neuropathy symptoms include:

  • Tingling.
  • Numbness.
  • Diminished reflexes.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Muscle wasting.
  • Muscle twitching.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Loss of balance and coordination.
  • Increased sensitivity to touch.

Neuralgia

Neuralgia is basically nerve pain (sometimes also known as neuropathic pain). The extent and severity of the pain vary, but whatever the cause of the pain is, it does not cause damage to the nerve. Neuralgias can be caused by medical conditions such as Diabetes, Anemia, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and Gout.

Neuropathic pain is not usually eased much by traditional pain killing medications. The pain is often described as being burning, stabbing or shooting in nature or may be likened to an electric shock.

Other common symptoms of neuralgia include increased sensitivity and pins and needles.

Neuritis

Neuritis is a painful inflammation of a nerve. Again the cause of this is varied. Longstanding or repeated bouts of inflammation can damage the nerve (resulting in neuropathy). The inflammation can occur in one nerve or a group of nerves within a body area or along the nerve path.

An optical neuritis is a common form which affects the optic nerve and so disrupts a patients vision. Other forms of neuritis are known as peripheral neuritis - relating to any other nerve. These include Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Treatment of Neural Pain

The most important factor in treating nerve pain and damage is to identify and treat the underlying cause, whether this is nerve injury or a medical condition etc.

Investigations such as EMG (electromyography) and Nerve conduction studies may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Medications such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen have not been shown to be particularly effective when it comes to neural pain. However, anti-depressant and anti-epileptic medications such as Amitriptyline or Gabapentin have been found to be useful in managing this type of pain.

The use of TENS machines has also been advocated to help ease the neuropathic pain.

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