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Neuropathy

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The nerves are the biological wires that transport motor messages from the brain to the muscles, as well as send back sensory information from the muscles to the brain. When a person suffers from Neuropathy, it is often caused by an underlying disease.

NEUROPATHY SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

In itself, Neuropathy is not a disease. It refers to diseases that affect the nerves, such as when diabetics develop a certain degree of nerve impairment. Neuropathy may affect many different parts of the body, or it may affect only a single part. There are many different classifications of Neuropathy depending on the symptoms experienced by the patient.

Sensory Neuropathy affects the nerves which are responsible for relaying to the brain sensations experienced by different parts of the body, such as heat or cold, texture or pain. This is commonly experienced by patients with diabetes, and it is often known as Diabetic Neuropathy.

Peripheral Neuropathy is characterized by a host of conditions that results from damage to the peripheral nerves. Peripheral nerves include all the nerves that are not part of the central nervous system (e.g., the spinal cord and brain). Distal Symmetric Polyneuropathy affects the two sides of a patient's body, particularly the hands and feet. Symptoms include a prickling or tingling sensation, numbness, and tenderness and pain in the feet and toes, especially when walking.

Neuropathis Arthropathy, also known as Charcot's joint involves the breaking down of a patient's joint due to a nerve problem. This often occurs in the feet, causing them to lose a majority of sensation, such as pain. Patients are unable to sense the presence of their own joints, and the surrounding muscles are rendered unable to support the affected joint.

In Cranial Neuropathy, the nerves related to the brain, sight, eye movement, taste and hearing are affected. It is characterized by pain in the stricken part of the face. Autonomic Neuropathy, on the other hand, affects the nerves controlling the intestinal tract, the bladder, and the genitals. It is a common condition that impairs digestion, urination, and male erection.

When only a single nerve is damaged, this is known as Compression Mononeuropathy. It is a common condition where the nerves located in between a tunnel or pair of bones are squashed, or when blood flow is restricted to part of a nerve, as is often the case with diabetics.
Neuropathy
Image: Neuropathy




Other Neuropathies include Femoral Neuropathy that occurs in patients suffering from Type II Diabetes, Diabetic Amyotrophy that affects the legs and cause weakness, and Thoracic Mononeuropathy, which affects the torso.

NEUROPATHY SYMPTOMS

Neuropathy symptoms depend on which nerves, whether motor, sensory or autonomic, have been impaired, and which parts of the body these afflicted nerves are located. In some cases, more than one type of nerves is affected. Patients suffering from Neuropathy are likely to experience mild to severe numbness, a tingling sensation on the affected part of the body, and alternate hot and cold sensations in their limbs. Oftentimes, these symptoms are accompanied by muscle fatigue, weakness and pain that can range from dull to sharp. Neuropathic pain has often been described as akin to wearing a tight glove or sock, freezing, aching, burning, itching, feeling extremely sensitive to touch, and even a sensation described like touching a live electric wire.

Fine motor coordination is likewise affected, causing loss of balance, lack of coordination, and in its most severe form, even paralysis. People who suffer from autonomic nerve damage, on the other hand, experience a breakdown in their involuntary motor functions. Symptoms include lack of perspiration, incontinence, sexual dysfunction, constipation, and abnormal heart rate and blood pressure.

When our nerve cells are damaged, their functions are reduced considerably, including the ability to feel sensation.

Neuropathy also occurs when the nerves do not get enough oxygen. They shrink and make it harder for them to transmit signals. When there is a decrease in blood flow and an increase in blood sugar levels, the nerves and blood vessels degenerate, rendering the nerves less effective and causing Diabetic Neuropathy.

Diabetes is often pinpointed as the most frequent culprit of Neuropathy. While the poor glucose control in diabetics has a direct link to nerve damage, medical science has not pinpointed the exact levels of glucose that causes this damage. It is theorized that high levels of glucose may not affect nerve cells, but instead affect other body systems, which in turn damage the nerves.

Nutritional deficiencies may also give rise to Neuropathy. Other known causes include exposure to chemicals, trauma, neurotoxins, nerve pressure, herpes zoster infection, and medications used in chemotherapy and AIDS. Patients who have cancer also experience Neuropathic pain when their peripheral nerves are compressed by tumors.

Symptoms related to Neuropathy are often the only way for doctors to make an accurate diagnosis. After taking down the patient's medical history and symptoms of the condition, the doctor will try to pinpoint the underlying cause, whether it stems from diabetes, cancer, inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, or toxicity. The doctor will also determine if there is a family history of the condition in order to diagnose Hereditary Neuropathy.

NEUROPATHY DIAGNOSIS

Tests may include knee and ankle reflex exams to test nerve responsiveness, taking the patient's blood pressure after the patient sits up from a reclining position, and taking the patient's blood sugar levels to determine the presence of diabetes.

The doctor may also subject the patient to electromyography to test the muscles’ response to electrical impulses, as well as nerve conduction to see how an electrical current travels through the nerves. Diagnosis of Charcot’s joint is usually determined through x-rays and bone scans.

Other tests include a biopsy of the affected nerve to check for the presence of Autoimmune Neuropathy, as well as blood and CSF tests to determine whether the patient may have Neuropathies associated with inflammation, infection, metabolism, toxicity, nutritional deficiencies, or genetic disorders.

NEUROPATHY TREATMENT

While Neuropathies can be diagnosed from the symptoms of pain, most conditions do not improve even with treatment. The difficulty in treatment stems from the fact that Neuropathy is an idiopathic condition, which means that the reason for most peripheral nerve damage is largely unknown.

Neuropathy is mostly caused by malnutrition, repetitive motion that leads to carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, HIV or AIDS, exposure to toxic matter, and genetic disorders that are inherited. Identifying these causes is the key to treating the underlying condition in order to relieve the symptoms of Neuropathy.

For Neuropathies whose causes remain unknown, medication for the management of pain symptoms can provide temporary relief. In these cases, it is important for sufferers to take good care of the affected limbs, and to prevent them from being exposed to too much heat or cold. Patients should also keep the affected areas from injury as Neuropathy is also known to impair the body’s healing process, and an injury can only exacerbate the patient’s suffering.

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Diabetes: Nerve damage (Neuropathy)
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Diabetic Neuropathy
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