What is Neuropathy and What Are its Causes?

Neuropathy falls under a web of disorders that occur when the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord become damaged. The condition is known as peripheral neuropathy, and it is most often the result of damage done to nerve axons. Neuropathy typically results in pain and numbness in the hands and feet. Some known causes for the condition include traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic disorders, and exposure to toxins. One of the most common causes is diabetes.

Neuropathy is known to affect nerves that control muscle movement and those that pick up sensations such as heat or pain. In the case of autonomic neuropathy, internal organs are effected, including the heart, blood vessels, bladder, or intestines. In the US, close to 20 million people are afflicted with neuropathy. Over half of diabetes patients also deal with this condition.

Pain from peripheral neuropathy is usually described as a tingling or burning sensation. Often the pain does not endure over a specific length of time, however symptoms do improve over time – especially if the neuropathy has an underlying condition that can be remedied. The condition is usually associated with poor nutrition, a number of diseases, and pressure or trauma, but many cases have no known reason.

Around 30% of neuropathy cases fall under the category of “no known cause” or idiopathic neuropathy. Another 30% of neuropathies are the result of diabetes. The remaining cases of neuropathy have several possible causes. One cause is excessive trauma or pressure on nerves, like from a cast or crutch or from a repetitive motion like keyboard typing. Another cause is due to poor nutrition caused by either poor dietary habits, vitamin deficiencies, or alcoholism.

Autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can result in neuropathy. Other diseases and infections known to cause neuropathy include kidney disease, tumors, liver disease, Lyme disease, and HIV/AIDS. And finally, exposure to certain toxins like heavy metals and certain medications can also cause neuropathies.

Peripheral neuropathy risk factors include a number of conditions and behaviors. Diabetic individuals who have poor control over their blood sugar levels are likely to develop some neuropathy. People who have received organ transplants, AIDS patients, and others who have had some form of immune suppression are at a higher risk of neuropathy. Individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse or have vitamin deficiencies are at an enhanced risk of the condition. Neuropathy is also more likely to be found in people with kidney, liver, or thyroid disorders.


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