What is it?
Neuropathy is a condition that affects the nerves in the body. Each nerve has a special covering and when that covering is damaged, the nerve doesn't function normally. A "tingling" sensation or a feeling of "pins and needles" may be a warning sign to the patient that their nerves are functioning abnormally. When the condition of neuropathy worsens, the patient may lose complete feeling in different parts of their body. Most commonly, neuropathy tends to affect the hands and feet. When the hands and feet become neuropathic, it is very difficult for one to carry out their activities of daily living.
What causes it?
Many diseases such as diabetes, alcoholism, vitamin deficiencies, trauma and certain drugs can cause neuropathy. The most common cause of neuropathy is diabetes mellitus. In diabetes, the elevated sugar affects the nerves and can result in pain or loss of sensation. If the sugar is not well controlled, the neuropathy progressively worsens and can cause serious disability in one's life. Sometimes with quick diagnosis and treatment this is reversible. Other times after an extended period of numbness, it is not reversible. Simple tasks such as walking barefoot or soaking your hands and feet can be potentially dangerous in the neuropathic patient. Constant monitoring of water temperature before bathing is essential in preventing unintentional burns or injury.
How is it treated?
A neuropathy can be a very difficult condition to treat. In general, a doctor can treat the symptoms that accompany nerve damage however; certain types and stages of nerve damage are permanent. Oral medications can be given to control the pain and other associated nerve-like symptoms. Newer medications are actually in some cases restoring partial feeling it the neuropathy is not too advanced. With advanced nerve damage in the hands and feet, it is essential for the patient to be cognizant of all precautions. It is mandatory for patients with neuropathies of the feet to constantly wear shoes and socks. Examination of the bottom of one's foot is required as well as checking the inside of shoes before putting them on. Having another family member evaluate the temperature of the water before bathing can help prevent unnecessary burns to the hands and feet. Neuropathy can be a very devastating condition. However, the more one knows about this ailment, the more effective is the clinical management.