What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is a painful condition related to damaged peripheral nerves. Peripheral nerves are the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord and connect the brain to all parts of the body. Peripheral nerves are fragile and can be easily damaged by many factors such as systemic illness, infections, alcoholism, autoimmune diseases, exposure to toxins and injuries or fractures. Neuropathy affects more than 2 million Americans at any given time. Diabetes is one of the most common causes of neuropathy.
No matter what caused the neuropathy, the symptoms are the same. Neuropathy initially manifests itself as a tingling in the toes which gradually spreads up the feet or hands and worsens into a burning pain. The sensations, whether tingling or pain, can be either constant or periodic. A person with neuropathy can also experience muscle weakness or numbness.
Neuropathy is among the one of the most common complications of diabetes. Over time, diabetic neuropathy may occur in up to 50% of diabetics, despite controlling blood sugar. Once it occurs, it almost always gets worse.
Diabetic neuropathy usually affects the feet first and then the hands. It starts with sensory changes such as numbness or tingling in the toes. At first these symptoms come and go, but then they become constant. Over a long period of time, the person may experience such a loss of sensation that he might not feel how tight his shoes are, know whether the bath water is hot or cold, or whether or not he has injured himself.
Changes in muscle strength also occur, possibly causing the diabetic to fall or the arches of his feet to collapse. Diabetic neuropathy is the leading cause of ulcerations and infections in the feet, and in advanced cases, amputation.
It will tell the doctor the exact stage of a person's neuropathy so that appropriate treatment can be done. It also accurately diagnoses other conditions that have similar symptoms to neuropathy so the correct treatment can be performed.
The test is done using a two-¬pronged device on the lower leg and tests for either a feeling that the two prongs are one two-point discrimination-or no feeling at all. The test takes forty-five minutes to one hour and results are printed as a series of bar charts.
If neuropathy is diagnosed, appropriate treatment and care is established.
The American Diabetic Association recommends yearly testing for diabetics.
New Treatment for Neuropathy
Conservative methods of treatment, such as special shoe inserts, nerve blocks or anodyne treatments (infrared light) can be used when neuropathy is in its early stages. If the neuropathy has progressed to the point where there is numbness and tingling throughout the day and weakness interferes with daily activities, then the person might be a candidate for a new surgical procedure: peripheral nerve decompression surgery. This is particularly suited to the treatment of diabetic neuropathy, with about an 80-90% improvement rate. It is also beneficial for non-diabetic neuropathy, and provides similar results. Ideally, surgery is done before there is no feeling left in the nerve and before the condition has worsened to the point of ulcerations.