Pain and numbness or tingling in the feet, legs, hands, and arms are common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy – a condition caused by damage to the sensory and motor nerves located on the outside of the brain and spinal cord.
While a number of medical conditions, including diabetes mellitus, autoimmune diseases, connective tissue disorders, shingles, Lyme disease, and vitamin B deficiencies, can cause neuropathies, medications to relieve neuropathy pain or treat the underlying condition can help alleviate the symptoms. In addition to different classes of medications, depending on the type and severity of the pain you suffer, a pain management specialist may recommend the use of other treatment therapies to relieve neuropathy symptoms.
Cause of Pain
People often describe the pain associated with neuropathy as sharp, stabbing pains that sometimes feel like jolts of electricity traveling through your body. You may also feel painful burning sensations in your extremities. But however you describe the pain you feel, painful sensations can occur when the sensory nerves or the myelin sheath (the protective layer covering nerve cells) becomes damaged and the messages these nerves receive are disrupted along the pathway to the brain.
Numbness and tingling often occur in the hands and feet, which are more prone to sensory nerve damage. If neuropathy affects motor nerves, you may experience muscle cramping, which can range from mild muscle twitching to painful muscle spasms and cramps.
While treatment of neuropathy pain includes practicing healthy lifestyle habits, controlling pain caused by damaged nerves often requires receiving more complex treatments supervised by a pain specialist.
Medications. If your pain symptoms are severe, a pain management specialist may recommend prescription painkillers for chronic pain management. But because medications that contain opioids can lead to physical dependence and addiction, doctors generally prescribe them only when other treatment options have proved ineffective. If your treatment plan includes the use of opioid pain medications, your pain specialist will carefully monitor your prescription refills and level of pain.
Tricyclic antidepressants also help relieve nerve pain by interfering with pain signals sent to the brain. Although antidepressants don't ease pain entirely, they do offer moderate pain relief to many neuropathy pain sufferers.
Anticonvulsant medications used to treat epilepsy can help to relieve nerve pain in some people. This class of drugs may alleviate pain by stopping the misfiring of nerve signals in the central nervous system.
Immunosuppressive drugs such as corticosteroids, which suppress the immune system, can help alleviate pain by decreasing the body's inflammatory response. Generally, these drugs are used to treat the underlying condition and should not be prescribed for an extended period, as the medications can have serious side effects with long-term use.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Your doctor may recommend TENS therapy for pain management. The use of controlled, low-voltage electrical impulses that stimulate nerve endings prevents pain signals from reaching the brain.
Although most people experience few side effects with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, the relief it offers doesn't last for long, as pain returns quickly once the TENS unit is removed. But if TENS helps to relieve your pain, your pain specialist may instruct you in the use of TENS therapy at home.
Intravenous immune globulin therapy (IVIG). While the treatment is expensive, IVIG therapy helps boost the immune system in individuals with certain autoimmune or inflammatory diseases that may be causing nerve pain. Administered as an intravenous infusion, high levels of proteins that act as antibodies are eventually metabolized by the body. Because the therapy offers only temporary pain relief, you may require repeat doses at regular intervals.
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