Neuropathy is a disease that affects the nervous system. ‘Neuro’ means nerves and ‘pathy’ means disease. It affects the nerve pathways running between the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord – and the peripheral nervous system – motor and sensory neurons. The major symptoms are serious pain, stinging, lack of sensation and inflammation, which affect diverse parts of the body, especially feet and toes, and sometimes hands too.
Neuropathic pain, also known as neuralgia, occurs spontaneously or as a reaction to external treatments. Neuralgia is dissimilar from the common type of pain that one might experience when hit with a hammer on the toe. Neuropathic pain is steady and constant, characterized by a burning or pricking sensation, which does not result from an obvious stimulus. Whereas common pain influences only the pain nerves, neuropathy triggers both pain and non-pain sensory nerves.
Some signs of neuropathy may appear suddenly, but loss of sensation increases gradually. Neuropathic pain is common in those with cancer or HIV, as a result of the disease or drugs used for treatment. Diabetics will develop nerve damage sooner or later. Research shows that millions of Americans are affected by neuropathy, and that diabetes is one of the primary causes, responsible for more than half of those affected.
Neuropathy may also be caused by hereditary conditions, strain, and kidney disease. Methodical examination of the patient should reveal the cause. With the aid of a few blood tests, electro-diagnosis, which tests nerve conduction, and electromyography, which studies muscular and nervous function, doctors may find the cause and provide appropriate treatment. Some treatments offered are splinting, surgery, physical therapies and therapeutic drugs, depending on the diagnosis.