Peripheral Neuropathy (PN) is the term used to describe disorders of the peripheral nerves. Even though 10 to 20 million people in the Us suffer with PN, information is hard to come by. Approximately 50% of diabetics will develop the condition. Many people using statin pills: ‘cholesterol drugs’, will be affected by this mysterious and under-recognized malady.
Neuropathy means “disease or abnormality of the nervous system”, which is not a very helpful definition. We think of neuropathy as any damage to the nervous system. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Herniated Discs and Stroke are all insults to different areas of the nervous system, all with different symptoms. Diabetes is a systemic disease that affects all nerves of the body from the brain, eyes and small nerves of the heart and digestive system, to the nerves of the hands and feet and legs.
The peripheral nervous system is made up of the nerves that branch out of the spinal cord to all parts of the body.
Peripheral nerve cells have three main parts: cell body, axons, and dendrites (nerve/muscle junctions). Any part of the nerve can be affected, but damage to axons is most common. The axon transmits signals from nerve cell to nerve cell or muscle. Most axons are surrounded by a substance called myelin, which facilitates signal transmission.
There are two types of symptoms with peripheral neuropathy; negative & positive. Negative signs, which come first, are when damage to the nervous system, obviously, brings about LOSS of a particular function. For example: loss of reflexes, loss of strength, and loss of sensation like numbness.
Only after some time do the sick and damaged nerves develop the positive signs of neuropathy: tingling, burning, biting, stabbing, and shooting pains. This too is a reaction of the brain and nervous system, unfortunately this overreaction tears apart the fiber of patients’ lives.
Each patient will describe their pain in their own individual language of ‘pain’. This can easily confuse a doctor not train in the recognition and treatments of these patients. So the patient usually continues to suffer, going from doctor to doctor, to strong and stronger doses of pills until they are either completely drugged up and out of it, or lost in their own world of suffering.
Some neuropathies come on suddenly, others over many years. Some people are affected only by a weakness in the arms and legs which leads to difficulty standing, walking, or getting out of a chair. The loss of sensation from the feet, ankles and toes contributes to patients not having a ‘good sense’ of where their feet are in space, touching the ground and this causes them to fall very easily. These under-recognized sensory losses CAN ONLY be detected with the proper clinical exam. This office has the necessary tools to uncover the underlying cause of the ‘silent’ nerve damage.
Some patients will eventually become unable to walk at all. Others start with a tingling, pin pricking feeling that turns into deep sharp stabbing pains and burning electric shock. These debilitating problems can also be at their worst at night which trying to get to sleep, because the PAIN never goes away.