How Neuropathy Can Complicate Other Issues
May 12-16 is National Neuropathy Awareness Week, a week devoted to spreading awareness of neuropathy, a complication that leads to damage or disability in the nerves. Patients with this condition experience numbness, pain, and muscle weakness in various parts of the body. This condition can also complicate or cause other health issues, compounding the situation. If you or a loved one suffer from neuropathy in hospice in Santa Clara and elsewhere, keep reading for more information on how neuropathy can lead to other issues.
What is Neuropathy?
Between 25 and 35 percent of people in the U.S. have neuropathy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Diabetes is the top cause of neuropathy, but there can be other causes too. Some neuropathy cases can be treated easily or even cured. Treatment controls and manages symptoms with the goal of preventing additional nerve damage.
Neuropathy, also known as peripheral neuropathy, involves dysfunction within the peripheral nervous system — the network of nerves located outside your spinal cord and brain. Neuropathy results when nerve cells (neurons) have become damaged or destroyed, disrupting how they communicate with each other as well as with the brain. Neuropathy may affect one nerve or nerve type, a combination of nerves in one area, or many peripheral nerves throughout the entire body.
People with neuropathy experience sensations of:
- Sharp pain (lightning-like)
- Burning, stabbing, or throbbing pain
Older adults are most at risk for neuropathy. In fact, about eight percent of adults over 65 say they have some degree of neuropathy. Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and heavy alcohol use. Those who engage in professions requiring repetitive motions are at a greater risk of experiencing neuropathy due to trauma or nerve compression.
Other Health Conditions That Can Be Affected
1. Diabetic foot ulcers
This is an open wound or sore that is slow to heal, common in those with diabetic polyneuropathy. It’s fairly easy to step on a sharp object if you have numb feet. Ulcers may also develop from poorly fitting shoes. High blood sugar damages blood vessels, restricting the blood supply to your feet. This results in fewer infection-fighting cells, which takes wounds longer to heal and can even result in gangrene.
Wound infection arising from peripheral neuropathy can develop into gangrene. If this happens, surgery is often necessary to remove the damaged tissue. In serious cases, amputation may be the only recourse.
3. Heart and blood circulation issues
Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN) is common in those with diabetic polyneuropathy. This occurs when peripheral nerve damage disrupts the standard functions in charge of controlling your blood circulation and heartbeat. Symptoms of CAN include the inability to exercise for long, and low blood pressure that makes you feel dizzy upon standing.
If you have neuropathy, you could face other complications as a result, such as:
- Burns and skin injuries. It’s hard to feel temperature changes or pain when you have numbness in certain areas.
- Infection. Your feet and other bodily areas that lack sensation can get injured and you don’t even know it. Be sure to inspect these areas regularly, treating minor injuries before infection sets in, particularly if you have diabetes, suggests the Mayo Clinic.
- Falls. Loss of sensation and weakness are often associated with falls and lack of balance.
Peripheral neuropathy can be brought on by many different conditions, such as:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Infections (viral or bacterial infections, including Lyme disease, hepatitis B and C, shingles, and HIV)
- Inherited disorders (i.e., Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease)
- Tumors. Growths and cancers may press on the nerves.
- Bone marrow disorders
- Other diseases (i.e., kidney disease, liver disease, connective tissue disorders, and hypothyroidism)
- Alcoholism. Poor dietary choices can lead to vitamin deficiencies.
- Exposure to poisons. Toxic substances include heavy metals such as lead and mercury and industrial chemicals.
- Medications. Certain medications (i.e., those to treat cancer, such as chemotherapy).
- Injury or pressure on nerves. Injuries, such as car accidents, falls, and sports injuries, as well as nerve pressure from casts or using crutches.
- Vitamin deficiencies (i.e., B vitamins, vitamin E and niacin)
Making healthy lifestyle choices is one way to lessen the effects of neuropathy. Be sure to eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains to keep your nerves healthy. To guard against vitamin B-12 deficiency, eat meats, fish, fortified cereals, eggs, and low-fat dairy foods. Vegetarians and vegans should eat fortified cereals to get their vitamin B-12. You should also exercise regularly — at least 30 minutes to one hour three times a week.
Avoid motions that can cause nerve damage, such as cramped positions that put pressure on nerves, repetitive motions, exposure to toxic chemicals, smoking, and excessive alcohol use.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
Our caregivers are skilled in caring for patients in hospice who have neuropathy. Find out how we help when you contact us at 888-978-1306.