What is Neuropathy?
The mental and emotional impact of seeing a loved one in pain can be devastating. And when it’s neuropathic pain, which is usually more difficult to treat and manage than other physical pain, the effect is even worse. There is no true peripheral neuropathy cure.
Neuropathy results from damage to the nerves – single or multiple. It manifests itself in tingling, numbness, weakness, burning or a stabbing sensation which usually occurs in the hands and feet.
In my mother’s case, the sensation she feels the most is a combination of a burning sensation coupled with some numbness in her hands and feet. This is very dangerous for the elderly because they can more easily fall due to the numbness.
Back pain, emanating from the spine, is another symptom of neuropathy. The most common form of neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy which is generally seen often in diabetics and cancer patients going through chemotherapy. It can also be caused by a traumatic injury, an infection, heredity, metabolic issues, diabetes and even toxins.
It’s not really considered a single disease because nerve damage has a host of symptoms, as well as multiple causes. We will go into more detail in our next section as we explore the multiple (and some surprising) causes.
What causes neuropathy?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are quite a few conditions that could cause peripheral neuropathy.
- Alcoholism – Poor dietary choices made by alcoholics can lead to vitamin deficiencies.
- Autoimmune diseases – These include Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy and necrotizing vasculitis.
- Diabetes – Over 50% half of people with diabetes develop some type of neuropathy.
- Medications – Certain medications, especially those used to treat cancer (chemotherapy).
- Infections – These include certain viral or bacterial infections, including Lyme disease, shingles, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis C, and HIV.
- Trauma – Traumas, such as motor vehicle accidents, falls or sports injuries, can sever or damage peripheral nerves.
- Tumors – Growths, cancerous (malignant) and noncancerous (benign), can develop on the nerves themselves or they can put pressure on surrounding nerves.
- Vitamin deficiencies – B vitamins, including B-1, B-6 and B-12, vitamin E and niacin are crucial to nerve health.
- Heredity – You are at risk if family members have neuropathy.
- Other diseases – These include kidney disease, liver disease, connective tissue disorders and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
How is it currently treated?
Neuropathy is treated in 2 main ways: medication and therapy.
- Pain relievers – Over-the-counter pain medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, can relieve mild symptoms. For more-severe symptoms, your doctor may recommend prescription painkillers. Opioid based painkillers, such as oxycodone or tramadol, are very addictive. Generally, the stronger medication is used only when all other treatments have failed.
- Anti-seizure medications – Medications such as gabapentin (Gralise, Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica), developed to treat epilepsy, may relieve nerve pain.
- Capsaicin – A cream containing this substance found naturally in hot peppers can cause modest improvements in peripheral neuropathy symptoms.
- Antidepressants – Certain tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, doxepin and nortriptyline (Pamelor), have been found to help relieve pain by interfering with chemical processes in your brain and spinal cord that cause you to feel pain.
Physiotherapy merely helps control the pain to some extent but doesn’t help reverse the damage caused to the nerves. You can also try a few natural therapies, such as acupuncture, meditation, biofeedback, homeopathy, laser treatment and herbs, to give temporary relief to your suffering loved ones.
But these also don’t help build to healthy nerves. All they do is to suppress the symptoms and help your loved one temporarily overcome some of the pain caused by neuropathy.
Given the seriousness of the problem, which is in fact quite widespread around the world, research into the treatment of neuropathy has been ongoing for decades. Some breakthroughs have been reported recently in the effective and holistic treatment of neuropathy.
What are the Latest Advancements in Research & Treatment?
Evaluating drug effectiveness
The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) has found some hope for neuropathy in functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). Their research suggests that FMRI may help in the evaluation of the effectiveness of new pain medications in the early stages of drug development. This, according to the researchers, could help in the identification of new and effective painkillers for chronic pain sufferers.
Basically, FMRI would help in measuring the brain’s neural response to pain, and thereby in assessing if a new drug could effectively treat neuropathy. The findings have been published in Anesthesiology, ASA’s official medical journal. (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/asoa-fmm020416.php). Endorsement of the findings by further tests could bring much relief to your loved ones currently battling with chronic pain.
Wireless technology to interfere with pain
A team of researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has discovered the potential in wireless technology to interfere with pain. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151109143616.htm). The treatment would involve implantation of a device that can activate pain signals in the body. Scientists have developed flexible, implantable wireless-based devices capable of blocking pain signals in the spinal cord and other parts of the body, thus preventing them from reaching the brain.
The device would be held in place with the help of sutures, according to the research findings published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The implant technology could one day become particularly effective in tackling neuropathic pain that fails to respond to other, traditional therapies. For now, one can only imagine the relief it would bring to your loved ones after it’s been successfully tested on human beings (at the moment it’s only been tested on mice).
Using blocking receptors for neuropathy treatment
For researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, finding an effective treatment for neuropathy is a challenge that they’re constantly striving to beat. In another research, the scientists, along with a team from McGill University in Montreal, have found a possible solution in using receptors in nerve cells to block the pain.
Their breakthrough findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, come as a ray of hope for hundreds of thousands of neuropathy patients suffering the painful effects of their nerve damage. What the researchers have proposed is to block the pain receptors in the nucleus of the spinal nerve cells. Their research shows that this would be much more effective in controlling pain than using similar receptors on cell surfaces. (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/wuso-rin020316.php)
Working with pain
Amid the huge body of research in progress to find an efficacious treatment for neuropathy, NeuroMetrix has come out with a new product for treating diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Sensus, as it’s called, is a non-invasive device designed to reduce the neuropathic pain, and concurrently to stimulate healthy nerve function.
The system, approved by FDA in late 2012, focuses on alleviating the pain by stimulating the nerves and nerve pathways externally. Being non-invasive in nature, this is one device your loved one won’t mind trying as a treatment for diabetes-related neuropathy. (http://www.sensusrx.com/
Although no definitive cure has been found yet, great strides are being made with some very promising treatment options. In the absence of any effective existing techniques or methods to treat neuropathy, all these studies, though still at an experimental stage, promise to make living with the problem somewhat easier. At least, they offer your loved ones the possibility of much-needed relief from the unbearable pain of neuropathy. In closing, I wanted to share with you a video from the Mayo Clinic Insights Series on neuropathy:
Thanks for reading! Please share in our comments section if you know of other treatment methods…
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