Peripheral Neuropathy, Disease or Symptom?
Peripheral Neuropathy is a word that gets used a lot in this day and age. Have foot pain? Neuropathy. Get tingling in your feet? Neuropathy. Get numbness in your feet? Neuropathy. Wake up in the morning, take your first step, and get excruciating pain? Neuropathy. I hear this almost on a daily basis from my patients. First, let’s talk about what Peripheral Neuropathy is.
Peripheral Neuropathy is A. Peripheral, meaning not of the brain or spinal cord nerves. B. Neuropathy, meaning damage, disease, or dysfunction of one or more nerves (Webster’s Dictionary). I challenge you to think of the term Peripheral Neuropathy as more of a symptom than a cause. It is a word that describes something wrong with a nerve in your arms, or hands, or legs, or feet. What kind of something? As the definition states, damage, disease, or dysfunction. Still doesn’t tell you anything specific, does it? There is also a definition used by the Cleveland Clinic. “Peripheral neuropathy refers to any condition that affects the nerves outside your brain or spinal cord.” Yes, that makes it clear as mud. Then Cancer.gov chimes in with “A nerve problem that causes pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, or muscle weakness in different parts of the body.”
Let’s put this in perspective. Say you are chopping wood for the winter. You miss with a bad swing, and the axe blade meets your shin, just above the ankle. You start bleeding and can’t walk on it. You get some help, and get to the hospital emergency room. The do their best to fix the damage, but for the last 2 months, you have a place that is completely numb. That is nerve damage causing peripheral neuropathy.
Here’s another scenario that is unfortunately becoming increasingly common. You are diabetic. You don’t always control your blood sugar very well. You refuse to be held hostage and decide you will eat what you want. You notice that more frequently you lose feeling in your toes. Then it went further into your foot. You doctor orders a NCV test, where they send electrical signals down the nerves and record if the signal makes it or not. Some of yours don’t make it, and the doctor tells you that it is from your uncontrolled blood sugar eating away the covering at the end of the nerves. You have a disease causing peripheral neuropathy.
The treatments for peripheral neuropathy are not a one size fits all. As you can see, the causes can be very different. Knowing the cause will help you and your doctor find the proper treatment. If they can’t find out why, how do they know what to do?