There are times when injury and disease conditions cause nerve damage which makes nerve endings misfire, causing numbness in the hands and feet, and at other times weakening of the muscles associated with these parts.
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The nervous system consists of a vast network of nerves that send signals from different parts of the body to the brain and spinal cord. The signals sent are then interpreted and sent back to the body as sensations felt. These sensations could be cold, heat, pain, tingling sensations amongst others.
The brain and spinal cord make up the Central Nervous System. The nerves outside the brain and spinal cord make up the Peripheral Nervous System.
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The Peripheral Nervous System has different types of nerves that regulate the body.
- Motor Nerves (responsible for controlling the muscles for movement).
- Sensory Nerves (responsible for sensation transmission like cold, heat, pain).
- Autonomic Nerves (responsible for regulating internal organs of the body like bladder function and digestion)
When something happens to disrupt the nerve signal pathway in the Peripheral Nervous System, this is known as Peripheral Neuropathy.
- Age: Peripheral Neuropathy can affect people of all ages. Nevertheless, older people are at a higher risk.
- Metabolic abnormalities like diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension
- Profession: Some professions require repetitive motions which in turn causes nerve trauma.
- People receiving chemotherapy and some other medications.
- Diabetes is the most common cause (about 70%) of neuropathy.
- Nerve injury caused by accidents, trauma and nerve compression caused by continuous stress to a specific body part.
- High intake of alcohol affects the absorption and utilization of important vitamins necessary for nerve function such as vitamins E, B1, B6, B12 and niacin.
- Vascular disorders: Inadequate blood flow to the arms and legs caused by blood clots, blood vessels disorders or inflammation deprives nerve cells of oxygen which may lead to nerve damage or death
- Disorders of the kidney and liver.
- Tumors (Malignant or non-cancerous) can impinge on nerves inhibiting their stimulation.
- Viral infections like Shingles, chicken pox, HIV and Hepatitis C
- Some medications and treatments such as HIV medications, anti-seizures medications, antibiotics, chemotherapy can cause Peripheral nerve damage.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The possible symptoms include:
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Sharp, burning, stabbing or shocking pain
- Muscle spasms, twitching, cramps and weakness, can lead to reduced movement of arms or legs
- Extreme sensitivity to touch, pain, pressure or temperature.
- Loss of muscle control and muscle tone or inability to properly hold objects.
- Inability to move your arms or legs.
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If you have these symptoms, please visit your doctor. Your doctor will take a history, carry out a physical examination on you and request some tests to determine the cause of the neuropathy.
Not all cases of neuropathy can be cured. Therefore, treatment goal is to manage the symptoms and improve your quality of life by preventing continuous nerve damage.
Treatment options include:
- Medications for pain management and vitamin supplementation
- Physical therapy that involves targeted exercise, and massage to improve strength, range of movement and balance
- Occupational therapy aimed at improving loss of function and cope with pain.
- Healthy nutrition and diet that contains essential vitamins for nerve function.
- Smoking avoidance, reducing alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy weight.
Peripheral neuropathy can be prevented by properly managing disease conditions that can lead to neuropathy; avoid exposure to harmful and toxic substances; properly attend to injuries from accidents and trauma; report immediately to your doctor for any side effects that arise from medications you take.
Ezike Nonye is a Pharmacist who completed her Bachelor degree from University of Lagos (B.Pharm). She is currently exploring digital marketing analytics as a novel field in Pharmacy practice while also interning at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria. She is a graphic designer, a blogger and an entrepreneur. She is passionate about creating new things from nature and believes that there is no limitation to what you can achieve. She is a Christian and loves writing and open to new ideas and skills.