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What is Neuropathy?

By S. Mithra
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Neuropathy describes a condition in which a person suffers from peripheral nerve damage often associated with an underlying disease. Though not a disease itself, neuropathy is diagnosed in many people for whom no pre-existing cause can be determined. While less than 3% of the general population is affected, eventually 60% of diabetics will develop some degree of nerve damage.

The symptoms of neuropathy are usually the only method of diagnosis. One might suffer sensations similar to decreased circulation in the extremities, such as numbness, ranging from mild to severe, and pins and needles. Limbs feel alternately burning hot and icy cold, accompanied by sharp or dull pain and muscle fatigue. These feelings are associated with reduced fine motor coordination, possibly leading to paralysis at the worst extreme.

Our nerves are sensitive paths along which our body relays electrical information between our senses and our brain. One system of nerves branch out from our spinal cord to sense things like movement, pain, tactile sensation, temperature, etc. When damaged, these functions become scrambled or have reduced sensitivity. Something goes wrong in some part of the nerve. Perhaps it's in the myelin, the membranous lining of nerve cells in which axons float. Or it could be in the axons, which are connectors responsible for transferring the electrical impulses from one cellular body to the next. Even the nerve cells can get injured.

While it's easy to diagnose the nerve damage based on pain, it's difficult to treat because it is so commonly idiopathic, which means the doctor doesn't know why the patient has developed peripheral nerve damage. However, the causes we understand most are malnutrition, repetitive motion resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, exposure to toxins or poisons, and inherited genetic disorders.

When a doctor can identify one of these causes, she can treat the pain at the source, by correcting malnutrition or treating diabetes for example. Unfortunately, if the neuropathy is idiopathic, the only available treatment is ongoing, temporary pain management, usually with pharmaceuticals. Researchers are still pursuing many paths of study to better understand the process that leads to such widespread neuropathy.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1005197 — On Jul 08, 2021

I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I have been experiencing sharp pain, tingling, burning and stinging in both of my feet for quite some time now. Within about a month or so, the sensation began to go up my legs as well, all the way up to the behind. Just this evening, I began to experience the sensation in my hands and arms - and, now, as I type this, my back. I am 43 years old. I have noticed my hands doing this at night when going to sleep - I thought it was just my limbs shutting down for the night!! Now, I am thinking it is neuropathy!!

By anon1000910 — On Jan 27, 2019

Neuropathy is hell. The drugs make me sick and do not work.

By anon231900 — On Nov 27, 2011

A friend of mine (male 48 years old) was an alcoholic all of his life. He has been sober for one year now but has neuropathy also resulting from the alcoholism, mstly affecting his feet.

You described redness and swelling. He gets acid on his feet and has to go to a podiatrist to treat that part of it. That is all I know about it at this point. I hope it helps you somehow. They say all you can do is treat it with the medications.

But do go get your feet checked when they show symptoms. Good luck to you.

By anon116054 — On Oct 05, 2010

I am suffering from neuropathy of the feet and it is so bad some days I hate to walk. I have been on several different medicines. they work for a while and then they stop working and I have to try another medication. Does the pain ever stop.

By anon76872 — On Apr 12, 2010

How does diabetes cause neuropathy? What is the exact mechanism.

By anon74712 — On Apr 03, 2010

I read so many stories that comparing with my case

it look like the romans used to say: Tot capita, tot centos"! Sorry. I have sugar 6.2 (canadian)

that's classic for excellent for man at 80+ years.

Don't have any pain, but I'm unstable in walking.

Some say that's simple tendinitis in my heels.

What do you say?

By anon65540 — On Feb 14, 2010

I am suffering from chronic Demyelination Sensorimotor Neuropath. It was diagnosed by Dr. at Apollo Hospital Chennai in May. Medicine: Unicobal Plus 1 Daily. Evion 400mg. 1 Daily.

In October, I suffered from Diplopia, and the doctor advised a sugar test and the result showed it was found sugar level is 335 Random.

The sugar is almost in control but neuropathy problem is same. no improvement. i am still continuing medicines.

By anon60953 — On Jan 17, 2010

I've had a stroke and was left with neuropathy in the left side of my body to include the leg and foot and hand.

By anon58507 — On Jan 02, 2010

I'm 57 years old and I am a recovering drug/alcoholic. I've been clean and sober for nearly six years now.

Prior to getting clean i was experiencing a lot of pain in both my feet. Severe sharp pains that would almost throw me to the ground if i wasn't able to grab hold of something and take the weight off my feet.

I don't get the sharp pain like i did back then, but i still have pain in my left foot accompanied by the tingling that goes straight to my head and actually makes me dizzy. I have pain that starts in my left buttock that goes clear down to my left foot and sometimes it will get numb from sitting but unable to stand for long periods of time.

My doctor took me off of pyridoxine hcl mainly because i told him i couldn't tell that it was helping. He's the third doctor I've had that I've tried to get help for this with and they have tried to tell me that it is everything from restless leg syndrome all the way to damaged nerves.

Even as i am typing this i am experiencing dizziness but they tell me they can't detect anything while it's not going on. I need help, please.

By anon49504 — On Oct 21, 2009

I am not a diabetic, but they tell me I have neuropathy in my feet. but does it also make your feet to swell on bottom and turn real red? I also have the tingling and burning and sharp pains.

By anon48666 — On Oct 14, 2009

I had morton's neuroma surgery 15 months ago and I'm still experiencing pain (stinging in all toes and needle sensations at times in the foot). Is it possible I may have neuropathy?

By anon37405 — On Jul 19, 2009

I have had breast cancer and now have neuropathy in both legs, is this common?

By overreactor — On Nov 10, 2008

Neuropathy most often affects the feet. There is numbness and pain associated with it. Keeping the blood sugar level on target will help relieve the pain from neuropathy.

By anon7349 — On Jan 24, 2008

does neuropathy have much to do about rsd?

By Dayton — On Jun 21, 2007

Though I'm not a doctor and I can't explain exactly how or why, a bit of online research seems to indicate that there are clear links (suspected or confirmed) between statin drugs and neuropathy. Whether or not they have a causal relationship, though, I can't say for sure...

By anon1946 — On Jun 20, 2007

Does statin drugs cause neuropathy?

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