What is neuropathy?
Neuropathy, or peripheral neuropathy, is a term given to a disorder which affects the peripheral nervous system. The latter is a large network of nerves which allows the central nervous system (which is made up of the encephalon and the spinal cord) to be connected to the rest of the body. These are called peripheral nerves which send motor and sensory information. In the case of peripheral neuropathy, these nerves no longer function properly. Neuropathy can affect just one nerve or several.
Types of neuropathy
We can distinguish between different types of neuropathy depending on the cause or the affected nerve.
- Diabetic neuropathy: This is one of the most common chronic complications of diabetes. Hyperglycaemia (an excess of sugar in the blood) is the main cause of diabetic neuropathy. Controlling glycemic levels is therefore vital in order to prevent the disease because the more often the balance is upset, the more dangerous the risks can be.
- Sensory neuropathy: This affects the sensory neurone. It can affect different types of sensitivity depending on the function of the affected nerve, such as sensitivity to pain, acute sensitivity or thermal sensitivity.
- Optical neuropathy: In this case, it is the optic nerve which is affected. It can cause a partial or total loss of sight.
- Axonal neuropathy: This is found in axons. They are the extensions of neurones which carry electric signals, and therefore information. It can result in a violent attack on the nerve as a result of the disease.
- Alcoholic neuropathy: This is a complication caused by chronic alcoholism. It is also often associated with smoking as well.
- Polyneuropathy: We speak of polyneuropathy in cases where several peripheral nerves are affected.
Symptoms of neuropathy
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy depend on the affected nerve. The first signs are usually burning sensations and pins and needles in the arms and legs. Patients also usually a loss of muscle strength as well as cramps or spasms. Nerve damage can also cause several other complications such as tachycardia, abnormal blood pressure, breathing problems, sexual problems, constipation etc.
Treating neuropathyThe first stage of peripheral neuropathy treatment is to treat the cause of nerve damage. In the case of diabetic neuropathy, controlling the level of glycaemia can be a cure. Similarly, in the case of alcoholic neuropathy, it is crucial to stop drinking alcohol and smoking. Physiotherapy can help to strengthen the arm or leg muscles again. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the peripheral nerves.