Under the Microscope with Neuropathy

Among the various afflictions of the body, neuropathy is one that can be a bit hard to identify and understand, particularly since the name makes one automatically associate it with a psychological disorder, namely, neurosis.

The only thing it has in common with neurosis is that both conditions affect the mind. Neurosis is a mental disease while neuropathy messes with the brain’s ability to process information received from the nerves. Neuropathy is, in essence, a disease that directly affects your motor skills.

Taking a Closer Look at Neuropathy

Neuropathy is an affliction of the nerves that can occur almost anywhere in the body (Duby, 2004). The body relies on the nerve endings that pick up messages and deliver them to the brain. Whether it is to pick up an object, to destroy harmful cells, to pump blood or to carry out any other function, the nerves and nerve endings in the body are essential to carry out that function.

In neuropathy, the nerves are damaged and are unable to carry the message from point A to Point B. This means that the brain does not always receive, read or react to the signal the nerves are giving. This, in turn, can greatly hamper the motor skills of a person and it can also make it difficult for them to run certain functions with ease.

For example: A person with neuropathy may suffer from bad vision, muscle spasms and be unable to properly use an arm or a leg. Neuropathy is not restricted to a particular set of nerves, which means that all the nerves in the body are susceptible to this condition.

To make it easier to work out a mode of treatment for it, neuropathy is often identified and classified on the basis of the location of the nerves it is affecting. Another way to identify the kind of neuropathy one is afflicted with is by identifying the cause. This has led to neuropathy being divided into the following types.

The Common and Different Types of Neuropathies

Because neuropathy is divided into different forms on the basis of the nerve damage that occurs, neuropathy can easily be identified into the following types (Christopher Gibbons, 2012).

Mononeuropathy

Mononeuropathy occurs when there is damage restricted to only one nerve. Mononeuropathy can also occur due to the result of compression, entrapment or other form of trauma that can cause damage to a single nerve. One of the most common forms of mononeuropathy is radial nerve palsy as well as carpal tunnel syndrome. Based on the kind of damage that occurs, mononeuropathy is often connected with peripheral neuropathy.

Polyneuropathy

Polyneuropathy relates to nerve damage, which is generalized and causes damage to various peripheral nerves. It can be a dangerous condition to handle, even leading to kidney and liver failure. An example of polyneuropathy is the Gullian-Barre Syndrome. While the condition is rare, it can be fatal since it attacks the immune system, leaving the body extremely vulnerable. It also attacks the spine, damaging the nerves that grow there. If not treated properly, it can result in death. Polyneuropathy is also connected with the occurrence of diabetic neuropathy.

Multiple Neuropathy

Multiple neuropathy occurs when two or more nerves in the body are suffering from damage. This damage occurs to the nerves individually. Each nerve is affected individually and it is not uncommon for the pain to occur, causing a stabbing sensation. It can be difficult to differentiate it from polyneuropathy as the nerve damage that occurs is more or less in the same area. If multiple neuropathy occurs in more than one nerves in the damaged area, it is possible for it to be counted as polyneuropathy since it handles more generalized damage.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the nerves around the spinal cord and on the outer area of the brain. Nerves in the body’s extremities are also prone to this, including the nerves in the feet, toes, legs, hands, fingers and arms as well. This form of neuropathy is often associated with the development of diabetes as well. People who have jobs that focus on repetitive movements such as pottery makers, painters and more are at a higher risk of developing peripheral neuropathy. It is typical for people to lose all feeling in the damaged area due to nerve isolation.

Proximal Neuropathy

Proximal neuropathy occurs when there is nerve damage of any kind around the lower torso of the body. Damage is usually restricted to the thighs, buttocks and the hips. It is characterized with difficulty in movement as well as shooting pains and burning sensations. A prime example of proximal neuropathy is sciatica. In this condition, a person often experiences difficulty in walking, standing and even sitting. It is common for sufferers to experience shooting pain down the afflicted leg as well as the lower back too.

Cranial Neuropathy

Cranial neuropathy (Catalano, Sen, & Biller, 1995) occurs when the cranial nerves that are located in the cranial area of the face are damaged. The nerves that are susceptible to damage include the optic nerve and the auditory nerve. Once they are hurt, it can be rather difficult to correct the damage since these nerves deal with damage to the eyes and the ears. Cranial neuropathy is also connected with optic neuropathy. This is when the nerve damage that occurs happens to the optic nerve.

This can lead to impaired vision. Moreover, it is also connected with the occurrence of auditory neuropathy as well. Auditory neuropathy occurs when the nerves in the ear and the ear canal are damaged, hindering the ability for the hearer to process sounds, since the brain signals sent by them cannot be picked up correctly.

Autonomic Neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy (Ewing DJ, 1980) relates to the damage to the nerves surrounding the involuntary nervous system. This means that your body will suddenly be exposed to an extremely higher risk of organ failure as it afflicts the nerves that control organ function. The autonomic nerves are responsible for keeping the body functions going. Since it handles the day-to-day function of the body, autonomic neuropathy can be fatal if it is not treated correctly. The autonomic nervous system is often connected with the heart, circulatory system, digestion, bowels, stomach, kidneys and more.

Focal Neuropathy

Focal neuropathy (A. Verma, June 1990) relates to when only one nerve in the body is damaged. For this reason, it is often connected with one particular nerve in certain areas of the body. Focal neuropathy is often only focused on the head, causing damage in the eyes. It also occurs on the torso and legs. It is often considered similar to mononeuropathy.

The Different Causes of Neuropathy

When it comes to identifying the kind of neuropathy that a person is suffering from, it is always necessary to identify the cause of it (Oleg, 2004). Oftentimes, the cause of these neuropathies can help to identify the kind of neuropathy that is occurring. Since there is never a hard and fast rule for neuropathy to occur, identifying the causes can be a bit tricky but the following causes are generally known to be linked. Neuropathies can occur due to a number of reasons such as:

  • Alcoholism - It is often connected with alcoholism, and is often associated with peripheral neuropathy as well. Poor nutrition, connected with vitamin deficiencies and the damage caused by the consumption of alcohol can lead to neuropathic conditions.
  • Diabetes – Diabetes is associated with neuropathy and diabetic neuropathy is one of the most common conditions that one can suffer from. Age of the patient and the duration of the diabetes can make a huge impact on the occurrence of neuropathy. Patients who have had diabetes for over a decade, have difficulty in controlling their blood lipids as well as suffer from high blood pressure and are overweight have a higher tendency of developing neuropathy.
  • Vitamin Deficiencies – Deficiency in Vitamin B12 can cause severe damage to the nerves, this can often result in the formation of neuropathy. The damage can be reversible on the basis of when the treatment is sought out to correct the deficiency. In certain cases, it can end up being permanent.
  • Autoimmune Diseases – Autoimmune diseases are often the causes of neuropathy. Conditions such as HIV/AIDS, Lupus, Arthritis, Gullian-Barre syndrome, as well as leprosy, syphilis and more. Nerve damage caused by these conditions can be permanent at times, particularly, in situations like arthritis where inflammation of the nerves is not easily countered.
  • Genetic Disorders – Inherited or genetic disorders can often affect nerves and cause neuropathy. It can be difficult to identify the exact extent of the nerve damage since these conditions are brought about by the genetic disorder. Conditions such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and Friedrich’s ataxia are responsible for causing neuropathy.
  • Exposure to Toxins – Exposure to certain forms of toxins and poisons can also cause damage to the nerves, causing neuropathy. For example: Mercury, arsenic, lead, gold compounds, pesticides, nitrous oxide, industrial solvents, rat poison and certain colors and dyes contain chemicals and toxins that cause damage to the nervous system of the body.
  • Medication- Certain medications can cause severe damage to the nerves in the body and cause neuropathy. For example: Drugs used in cancer therapy such as vincristine and different antibiotics such as metronidazole and isoniazid can cause nerve damage, leading to the development of neuropathy.
  • Tumors – Development of tumors in the body can often be related to the development of neuropathy. This is due to the fact that tumors can put pressure or pinch the nerves, causing mild or severe neuropathy. Once the tumors are removed, the neuropathy can be corrected with ease.
  • Trauma or Injury – Injury or trauma to the body can often be the cause of neuropathy as well. Decreased blood flow to certain areas can result in permanent never damage. Moreover, damage to the nerves can happen due to a sports injury or even a bad fall that could put too much pressure on a particular area.
  • Amyloidosis – In this particular condition, the body processes protein fibers in an abnormal manner, depositing it abnormally in organs and tissues as well. It can cause the development of neuropathy since the nerves get damaged from the abnormal activity they are experiencing in that area.

Keep in mind that these are the most common causes of neuropathy. There can be other conditions that sprout up that can have neuropathy as one of the side effects. Luckily, once a person identifies it, they can easily get to work on the treatment to eliminate neuropathy in the body.

Signs of Neuropathy

Due to the fact that there are different types of neuropathy afflictions, a person can experience different signs and symptoms for each kind. The following is a detailed look at the signs and symptoms, one can experience.

Peripheral Neuropathy

(Mugdha Gore, 2005) In most cases, prolonged, untreated peripheral neuropathy can lead to the development of dysesthesia. This is a condition that affects the sensory system of the person. It can wreak havoc in the sense of touch and cause the following symptoms:

  • Tingling on certain areas of the skin
  • A burning feeling or sensation on the skin
  • Hypersensitivity to touch that can cause pain even when touching towels and sheets
  • Feeling pins and needles in the body can be caused in the areas that are affected in the body
  • A sensation of stabbing pain
  • Weakness of muscle
  • Trouble in coordination

Mononeuropathy

When only one group of nerves is suffering from damage, it can cause mononeuropathy. This can cause patients to experience the following symptoms in their body.

  • Problems in maintaining proper vision; it is common for patients to develop double vision
  • Centralized pain that occurs in the eye
  • Bell’s Palsy – part of the face is paralyzed
  • Causes pain that occurs in the chest
  • Causes pain that occurs in the shin
  • Causes carpal tunnel syndrome that radiates in the wrist and the lower palm.

Experts have speculated that around 5% of all females and 3% of all males experience carpal tunnel syndrome. If a person already has diabetes, they tend to be at greater risk of suffering from this condition.

Autonomic Neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy occurs when the autonomic system in the body is damaged. It has the following symptoms:

  • Development of Dysphagia - Problems in swallowing
  • Problems in maintaining balance
  • Development of Tachycardia – Acceleration in maintaining heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hypotension or dizziness in lying or sitting down
  • Problems in maintaining coordination
  • Incontinence in bladder and bowel control
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Generalized Symptoms of Neuropathy

When it comes to understanding neuropathy, you may not experience all the symptoms but the following are eight of the most common, generalized symptoms of neuropathy (Didier Bouhassiraa, 2007).

Sharp Pain

When the nerves in the sensory area are damaged, they can often cause erratic sensory outputs, including pain in the area of the damage. Many patients of neuropathy experience stabbing, sharp pains as well as burning sensations. They often describe it as a sensation, akin to a lightning bolt. In some cases, the nerve damage can cause the hands, legs and arms to become sensitive, causing excruciating pain, even because of the slightest touch. In some cases, it is possible for the person to even sleep without experiencing sharp pain when the foot comes in touch with the bedding.

Tingling and Numbness

Another common symptom is numbness in the area where the pain occurs. Numbness or a tingling sensation in the body can afflict the area that is suffering from nerve damage. While it doesn’t seem like numbness would be challenging, it does have its own set of cautions that one must keep an eye on. Numbness affects not only the ability of a person to feel pain but also deadens other sensations in the area.

For example: If a person has blisters and sores on their feet, they will be unaware that they need to be treated or if they have become infected. They also have a tendency to suffer from burns since the body does not have the sensory nerves available to detect the high temperatures. Similarly, they also have to pay attention to the environment and themselves as well, since this can help them to minimize the damage that occurs.

Losing Balance

Another symptom that is caused by neuropathy is the loss of balance. Peripheral neuropathy in particular can cause this situation. This is usually accompanied with a sense of numbness and the situation is worsened if the numbness is felt in the feet. People who feel numb in the feet lose balance as they are unable to process the total BMI as well as successfully calculate the center of the pressure, mass and gravity as they move. You do all these things by instinct if you have healthy feet. Due to this, people were prone to experiencing loss of balance and difficulty in maintaining their balance.

Weakness and Twitches of Muscles

Weakness in the muscles occurs when the nerves that affect the muscles are damaged and cause difficulties and also make a huge impact on the motor skills of a person. Twitching in muscles can range from something light, to a persona experiencing depilating cramps. This involuntary twitching can also cause further damage since the nerves are intertwined with each other and they can create painful sensations as well. Weakened muscles do not only mean weakness in motor skills but also lead to development of weak reflexes and muscle atrophy as well. In severe cases, it can lead to muscle degeneration.

Lightheadedness

A person who has neuropathy may also experience dizziness and lightheadedness. This occurs when the nerves that help regulate blood pressure suddenly become damaged. The lack of blood can cause dizziness and lightheadedness, particularly due to sudden movements. For example: A person who goes from a sitting position to a standing one can easily suffer from dizziness since the sudden change in position might cause a sudden drop in their blood pressure. They might need a few minutes to realign themselves before they can proceed further.

Abnormalities in Sweating

When a person has developed autonomic neuropathy, they may experience abnormal body functions, including abnormal sweating. In this condition, the autonomic nerves are damaged and are unable to properly assess the needs of the body. A person may experience an abnormally large amount of sweating, particularly on the upper torso of their body. On the other hand, a similar situation may occur when a person experiences an inability to sweat. This can also result in causing excessively dry skin that is susceptible to damage.

Problems in Digestion

Another common symptom of neuropathy is that a person may have difficulty properly digesting their food. They might be experiencing slow digestion that could be leading them to experience diarrhea or they might be feeling constipated. Similarly, eating a meal might leave them feeling excessively bloated. They could also end up feeling extremely satiated and full after eating, even if it was a small amount of food.

Keep in mind that pain, numbness and tingling are the most common generalized symptoms that occur with almost all forms of neuropathy.

Works Cited

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  2. Catalano, P. J., Sen, C. M., & Biller, H. F. (1995). CRANIAL NEUROPATHY SECONDARY TO PERINEURAL SPREAD OF CUTANEOUS MALIGNANCIES. American Journal of Otology , http://journals.lww.com/otology-neurotology/Abstract/1995/11000/Cranial_Neuropathy_Secondary_To_Perineural_Spread.11.aspx.
  3. Christopher Gibbons, M. M. (2012). Diabetic Neuropathy. American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine , http://www.aanem.org/mxonline/resources/downloads/2012%20Annual%20Meeting/Coursebook_Diabetic%20Neuropathies.pdf#page=4.
  4. Didier Bouhassiraa, b. c.-M. (2007). Prevalence of chronic pain with neuropathic characteristics in the general population. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304395907004496.
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  6. Ewing DJ, C. I. (1980). The natural history of diabetic autonomic neuropathy. PubMed , https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7433630.
  7. Mugdha Gore, B. P.-S. (2005). Pain Severity in Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy is Associated with Patient Functioning, Symptom Levels of Anxiety and Depression, and Sleep. JPSM , http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2005.04.009.
  8. Oleg V Evgrafov1, I. M.-G. (2004). Mutant small heat-shock protein 27 causes axonal Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and distal hereditary motor neuropathy. http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v36/n6/abs/ng1354.html.

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