Do you know if you are experiencing symptoms of neuropathy? Neuropathy is a complication within the nervous system. It is caused by the degeneration of the nerves situated outside of the spinal cord and brain. While this problem is irreversible, you can take action to help fend off neuropathy or control it through treatment, lifestyle, and diet.
Symptoms of neuropathy are usually unpredictable and differ greatly from person to person. The symptoms are influenced by the group of nerve fibers affected and the severity of impairment.
There are four main types of neuropathy, each with its own type of symptoms and diagnosis.
1. Peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral nerves are located outside your spinal cord and brain. They are part of the peripheral nervous system that includes neuromuscular junctions, spinal nerves, their branches and roots, and cranial nerves.
Peripheral nerves transmit signals from the spinal cord and brain to the rest of the body. They are vulnerable and can be damaged easily. Peripheral nerve injuries can hinder the brain’s ability to communicate with organs and muscles. As a result, these injuries present various problems to patients, varying from life-long impairment to mild discomfort.
Damage to peripheral nerves is commonly associated with:
- Uncontrollable muscle twitching
- Painful cramps
- Muscle weakness
Muscle spasms and twitches will manifest in the arches of the foot, ribcage, belly, arms, hands, calves, and thighs. Most muscle twitches are inconspicuous and aren’t a reason for worry. However, muscle spasms can make breathing, eating, talking, and walking difficult.
A muscle cramp occurs when a muscle contracts uncontrollably and suddenly. A cramp can go on for varying durations and mostly resolve by itself. There are many causes of cramps, but compression of nerves in the spine is the main cause of cramp-like pain in the feet.
The doctor may conduct electromyography to evaluate the state of the muscles and the nerve cells that manage them.
2. Proximal neuropathy
Proximal neuropathy is a disabling and rare type of nerve injury in the thigh, buttock, or hip. It typically affects one side of the body initially, but gradually, the symptoms will worsen and spread to both sides. Diabetes mellitus is the most common cause of proximal neuropathy.
Your doctor will diagnose proximal neuropathy by inquiring about your symptoms and conducting tests like nerve conduction studies. If the proximal neuropathy is suspected to be caused by diabetes, your doctor will check your glucose level through a blood test.
Symptoms of proximal neuropathy include:
- Pain in your thigh, buttock, and hip, which is severe and sudden
- Loss of reflex response — as a result, your muscles may be so weak that you won’t be able to complete everyday activities
- Serious foot problems, like ulcers, infections, deformities, and bone and joint damage
- Unwanted weight loss — this happens when your body starts burning muscles and fat at a quicker pace because it is not receiving signals in time
- Weakness in the legs
While the specific causes of diabetic neuropathy remain a mystery, multiple factors may give rise to the disorder. Diabetic neuropathy is generally caused by high blood sugar levels experienced over a long period. This leads to chemical changes in nerves and makes it more difficult for the nerves to transmit signals. Other causes are obesity and high triglyceride, smoking, and low “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
You can manage proximal neuropathy pain with the same medication used to treat peripheral neuropathy pain. Similarly, regular exercise can successfully restore nerve function and boost nerve regeneration. Consequently, it would be best if you prioritized these exercises:
- Low-impact cardiovascular exercises
- Strength training
- Balance and stability work
- Mind-body exercise
3. Autonomic neuropathy
Autonomic neuropathy happens when the nerves that manage involuntary body operations are destroyed. This has a negative impact on sexual function, bladder function, digestion, temperature control, and blood pressure.
Autonomic neuropathy has varying symptoms depending on the type of nerves that are damaged:
Blood pressure and heart rate symptoms
When the nerves that control blood pressure and heart rate are injured, they are unable to respond to changes in breathing patterns, sleep, physical activity, stress, and body position quickly. As a result, your blood pressure may decrease when you stand or sit. Moreover, your heart rate will remain too low or high rather than changing with body exercise and functions.
Damage to the nerves that control the digestive system will result in multiple gastrointestinal symptoms. You may feel constipation that may be accompanied by diarrhea. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite, bloating, vomiting, and nausea.
You may not be able to initiate urination or incontinence when you develop autonomic neuropathy. Sensing a full bladder may also become a significant problem. Similarly, you may have difficulties emptying the bladder, which may cause urinary tract infections.
Body temperature symptoms
Autonomic neuropathy can interfere with the body’s ability to detect temperature changes in the atmosphere. This can lead to sweating abnormalities, like sweating too little or too much. Consequently, your ability to regulate body temperature will become ineffective.
Autonomic neuropathy is punctuated by damage to the nerves that control blood flow to the vaginal area and enable smooth muscle relaxation. Therefore, the onset of autonomic neuropathy can lead to multiple sexual difficulties, such as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection in men. Women also experience issues like difficulties reaching orgasm, low libido, and vaginal dryness.
Damage to the autonomic nervous system can cause problems with your lungs. The result is shortness of breath that may be accompanied by fainting.
Autonomic neuropathy has a negative effect on your eyes’ pupils. The pupils will be unable to adapt quickly to changing light. This may be a problem, especially when you are driving at night or moving into a brightly lit area.
4. Focal neuropathy
Focal neuropathy is a condition in which you experience damage to a single nerve, primarily in your leg, torso, head, or hand. It is less common than other types of neuropathy and manifests in different ways:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
The median nerve is a sensory nerve that offers motor functions to the three middle fingers and the thumb. Compression pressure on the median nerve can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition usually affects the narrow passageway in the palms of the hand.
In most patients, carpal tunnel syndrome will worsen if left untreated for a long period.
Carpal tunnel syndrome’s main symptoms are weakness, tingling, and numbness in your hand. You may also experience shock-like feelings that move into your fingers. These symptoms usually come and go, and they are often more prominent at night.
Mononeuropathy refers to damage to a single nerve that is located near a bone or close to the skin. If the symptoms develop suddenly, it is called acute mononeuropathy. However, if the symptoms develop slowly, it is called chronic mononeuropathy.
Mononeuropathy is generally caused by injury or diseases that affect the entire body. For instance, a prolonged cramped posture, cast, tumor, and any form of compression against a hard surface can induce mononeuropathy.
Mononeuropathy leads to abnormal sensations, such as loss of sensation and pins-and-needles, in the region supplied by the affected nerve. You may also experience numbness, paraesthesia, and a stabbing sensation. Other symptoms of mononeuropathy are loss of coordination and muscle mass in the affected region.
Plexus neuropathy (brachial plexus)
Plexus neuropathy is a condition that involves the damage of nerves in the upper shoulder area. It leads to severe pain in the arms and shoulders and may restrict movement. Plexus neuropathy is also characterized by loss of sensation or extreme pain in the nerves that carry signals from and to the spinal cord and brain.
Plexus neuropathy is common among athletes, especially footballers. Babies can also develop the condition if they are injured during birth.
The main symptoms of plexus neuropathy are weakness, tingling, and numbness in the shoulders and chest. You may also experience unusual sensations and poor muscle control in the region around the shoulders.
Radiculopathy refers to a series of conditions that are caused by the compression of a nerve root in the spinal area. The main symptoms of radiculopathy include pain, weakness, and numbness. You may also experience a loss of sensation, decreased motor skills, and pain associated with neck straining or movement.
Let us help you
At Carolinas Pain Center, we help patients struggling with symptoms of neuropathy. In particular, we focus on unique pain management techniques. You can be sure of a customized holistic approach to treatment and care at our health facility.
Our health experts will diagnose the causes of your pain and recommend the appropriate treatment. We can also implement a lifestyle change plan to help manage your neuropathy pain. Contact us today to book an appointment.