The most common cause of neuropathy, by far, is diabetes. Here is why:
The nerves rely on tiny blood vessels to bring them highly oxygenated blood. All cells in our body, including nerves, need oxygen to stay healthy and stay alive. Without oxygen our nerves die. Diabetes is known to cause damage to blood vessels, with the smallest vessels being affected first. Damaged blood vessels result in a lack of blood supply. This is known as ischemia. The majority of people with diabetes have, or will develop neuropathy.
Chemotherapy is another common cause of neuropathy. Here is why:
Chemotherapy is often needed by patients battling cancer. It is necessary to kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy is also toxic to healthy cells. As a result, very often nerves are damaged by the chemotherapy. Sometimes the neuropathy caused by chemotherapy is self-limiting and the nerve can heal on its own over time. But, all too often the neuropathy caused by chemotherapy lingers and causes continued agony for the patient.
Nerve compression can also cause neuropathy. Here is how:
Nerve cells are long and very thin. Some nerve cells stretch the entire length of your leg- all the way down to your foot. That’s right. One cell can be 3-4 feet long! Nerves are made up of many of these cells wound together like strands in a rope. You can think of these tiny nerve cells as hollow tubes. Nutrients are moved through the hollow tube to keep each cell healthy. If there is some type of mechanical pressure placed on the nerve long term, it will restrict the flow of nutrients throughout the length of the nerve. This has the same effect as putting a kink in a garden hose- nothing is able to get through the tube. As a result, the nerve will become damaged and may eventually die. Some common causes of mechanical compression of a nerve are: a bulged/herniated disc in the lower back, muscle spasm in the buttocks, or legs, or a direct trauma to a nerve.
Vitamin B12 deficiency. Nerves need B12 to function normally. Without it they cannot function normally and neuropathy may result. This may happen as a result of alcoholism, or malnourishment.
There is also a type of neuropathy known as idiopathic neuropathy. This term literally means ‘you have nerve damage and we don’t know why’. This diagnosis is usually given when a medical history, examination, and testing fails to give an answer as to why the nerve damage is happening.
There are also other less common types of neuropathy. Some cases of neuropathy are related to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, or Guillain-Barre syndrome. Neurologic diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis may lead to neuropathy. There are also several less common types of neuropathy related to genetic disorders.
Scott Medical Center Treatment
The first step in developing an effective treatment plan for neuropathy is identifying the type of neuropathy you have.
After obtaining your personal and family health history, we get many details from you about your current neuropathy symptoms. Then an examination will be performed. These items give us a lot of information about your condition. If needed, additional testing may also be ordered to further clarify your condition. Some examples of additional tests may include lab testing, NCV/EMG test (a measure of nerve and muscle function), evaluation of your blood vessels, or possibly an MRI.
Once our providers have the above information we will assemble a treatment plan specifically for you. For example, if we have identified that the nerves in your feet and legs are damaged we focus treatment on the injured area of the nerve. If we identify a problem with your balance then we will address that with treatment. Similarly, if we identify an injured disc in your lower back, then we will focus our treatment on the injured disc.
Unfortunately, many patients suffering from neuropathy may have several different sources of nerve damage. For example, a diabetic patient may have nerve damage in their feet AND a herniated disc in their lower back causing nerve compression. The key to treating these more complicated situations is proper evaluation to identify ALL sources and then focusing treatment on each problem, i.e. treating both the nerves and the disc in this example.
This may bring up a concern for those people who have been told they have idiopathic neuropathy. Remember, idiopathic neuropathy means ‘you have nerve damage and we don’t know why’. Even if no one has been able to figure out exactly why you have nerve damage, we are still most likely able to figure our WHERE the nerve is damaged. We can then focus our treatment on the appropriate area. Fortunately, with our treatment methods we have been able to help many people with idiopathic neuropathy.
The most recent thoughts from experts on neuropathy are that most cases of neuropathy involve ischemia, which is a lack of blood supply. Blood flow is required for any of the organs and tissues of our body to heal. Whether it be the heart after a heart attack, a muscle after a muscle strain, or your skin after a cut, or scrape, the injured area needs blood supply to heal. Your nerves are no different. Blood flow brings in oxygen and nutrients necessary for healing an injured nerve and for normal everyday function. Because of this, much of our treatment is focused on improving blood flow to the area of nerve damage.
We use laser therapy in our neuropathy treatment program. We have evaluated the benefits of countless treatments available for neuropathy, including laser, medications, lotions, creams, vitamins, acupuncture, and many others. Based on our research, our experience, and more importantly, the improvement we have seen in our patients, we believe we have assembled the absolute best treatment program available to those suffering from neuropathy.