Autonomic neuropathy disorders affect involuntary body functions that include heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration, and digestion. Damage to the autonomic nerves disrupts signals between the brain and the effected portions of the autonomic nervous system, like the heart, blood vessels, and sweat glands. Peripheral neuropathy (PN) is a type of autonomic neuropathy that specifically affects the extremities and causes decreased or abnormal performance to occur within one or more bodily functions. Signs, symptoms, and treatments of PN vary depending on the cause, and on which nerves were affected.
PN symptoms can cause numbness or reduced sensory abilities. Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- A tingling or burning feeling
- Pain when walking
- Sharp, jabbing pain that may be worse at night
- Extreme sensitivity to the lightest touch—for example, extreme pain under the weight of a sheet
- Muscle weakness, fatigue, or atrophy
- Serious foot problems like ulcers, infections, deformities, and bone and joint pain
PN can arise from a complication related to a number of diseases and conditions. Potential causes may also include poisoning, exposure to toxins, chemotherapy, or physical injuries. Some medications can even cause neuropathy as a side effect.
While the most common worldwide cause of PN is leprosy, in the United States it is diabetes. For some people, diabetic neuropathy can be mild, while for others it can be very painful and, in worst cases, fatal.
Patients with Syndrome X, a compromised immune system, Parkinson’s disease, Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS, hereditary disorders, B12 deficiency and botulism, or any other chronic medical condition are also at high risk for PN and should be checked regularly for nerve damage.
PN is diagnosed through a combination of techniques including medical history, physical examinations, imaging tests, and nerve function tests. A nerve conduction study works by monitoring the peripheral nervous system and evaluating its response to stimuli. The test can be completed quickly and is pain free.
Consistently keeping blood sugar within a safe range can help delay the progression of PN and may even bring about improvement with symptoms.
Early detection of PN can also help bring about aggressive intervention within its early stages. Treatments for PN should focus on attaining any or all of the following results: remission, slowing progression of the disease, pain relief, monitored and ongoing evaluation, and managing complications and restoring functions. To help slow damage, the following is advised:
- Good foot care
- Practice blood pressure control
- Implement a healthy eating plan
- Stop smoking
- Maintain weight
- Perform physical activity
- Avoid alcohol
While there are several medications used to relieve nerve pain, some come with worse side effects and may not work for everyone. However, some common and effective pain relieving treatments include:
- Anti-seizure medications
- Lidocaine patch
There are also a number of alternative therapies for pain relief, such as use of capsaicin cream or acupuncture. Consult your doctor for the best treatment method specific for you.