Neuropathy is a complex form of chronic pain. In the majority of cases, it’s accompanied by an injury of some sort. Nerve fibers are damaged or dysfunctional, and as a result, they send faulty or misguided signals to the pain centers in the brain.
The impact of these injuries actually changes the way the area of the injury interprets and responds to pain.
Phantom limb syndrome is the textbook example of neuropathic pain. It occurs when a limb or appendage has been removed because of an illness or injury. But even with the limb gone, the brain still receives pain signals from nerves once tied to the missing limb. The nerves misfire, causing pain that seems impossible because the limb is no longer present.
What are the causes and symptoms neuropathic pain?
It is unclear what causes neuropathy. But some commonly related disorders include alcoholism, diabetes, spine surgery, amputation, HIV/AIDs, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy, facial nerve problems, shingles, and back, leg and hip problems.
Symptoms of neuropathic pain may include tingling, numbness, shooting, and burning sensations.
How is neuropathy diagnosed?
It can be difficult to diagnose neuropathic pain. Usually, a doctor will conduct an interview. You will be asked to describe your symptoms, including when the pain occurs, how it feels, and whether it is triggered by something. Your doctor may also conduct a physical test, including a blood test and/or nerve tests.
How is neuropathic pain treated?
Chronic pain caused by neuropathy may be treated by anti-inflammatory drugs. These are available over-the-counter, without a prescription. For some people, these may not be strong enough though. Other painkillers, including those that contain powerful sedatives may be more helpful in those cases. In addition, medications for seizures, known as anticonvulsants, and antidepressants may also be helpful.
When other conditions, such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis, are involved, managing the disorder can sometimes help to improve pain symptoms. In addition, management and treatment of underlying disorders can help to prevent additional damage to the nerves.
For most people who suffer from chronic pain caused by neuropathy, seeing a pain specialist is the best option to decide on a course of treatment. In some cases, pain specialists implant devices to help manage the pain. Electrical stimulation of nerves can help to improve symptoms.
Finally, alternative or complementary treatments may offer relief from pain-related symptoms. Working with a counsellor, therapist, physical therapist, massage therapist, acupuncturist, or relaxation expert is recommended.
Unfortunately, people who suffer from chronic pain caused by neuropathy do not tend to respond well to normal pain treatments. Pain may get worse over time, and even cause serious disabilities. Combining various therapies and attending to all underlying health conditions is usually the most effective way to improve symptoms.
If you suspect your chronic pain might be caused by neuropathy, you should make an appointment to see a family doctor. Try to keep a record of your symptoms before your appointment in order to give your doctor a clearer idea of what you’re experiencing and any potential triggers.