The short answer is that neuropathy is when a nerve is irritated and isn’t working right which can cause numbness, tingling, weakness, or even pain. The term neuropathy doesn’t tell you what is causing the nerve to be irritated, only that something is bothering it. The most common type of neuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, meaning that the nerves get irritated due to the consequences of diabetes. But, there are many different types of neuropathy, which can present in all sorts of ways. Before going too much more into neuropathy, it’s worth talking a little more about how a nerve works, and what it does.

What is a nerve, and how does it work?

If you were to cut someone open and take a look at one of their nerves, it would almost look and feel like a piece of spaghetti, with the smallest nerves being microscopic sized spaghetti that you can’t see, and the largest ones having a diameter of about the size of a nickel. Nerves are really just fancy electrical wires that do different things. Some nerves power muscles, others provide sensation so you know when you’re touching something, while some control things such as your heart beating and how much you sweat. With the most common types of neuropathy, it’s mostly the sensory nerves that are affected. A diabetic with bad diabetic neuropathy won’t even know if they have a thumbtack stuck in their foot because they can’t feel it. 

What causes neuropathy?

There are many many reasons why someone can have neuropathy; autoimmune diseases, specific types of infections, trauma, kidney disease, liver disease, genetic disorders, tumors, medication, chronic nerve compression (carpal tunnel), industrial chemicals, heavy metals, alcoholism, vitamin deficiencies… In other words, nerves are delicate, and there are many many different reasons that a nerve can be irritated. 

What can I do about my neuropathy?

The most important thing you can do is to see a doctor who spends time with you, and can give you an accurate diagnosis. Once you have this, then you can start a treatment plan to deal with your neuropathy on a personal level. The treatment you need for your neuropathy may be different than what someone else may need. Some recommend a healthy diet and exercise. While a healthy diet and exercise are always a good idea, you still need an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to attack the root cause of your neuropathy.

I hope I was able to answer some of your questions about neuropathy. If you still have more questions, I encourage you to contact me.

-Written by Dr. Daniel Paull