Millions of people experience pain – physical and psychological – but while it’s subjective and affects everyone differently, there are options to manage your discomfort. One of the most common forms is neuropathy, or neuropathic pain.
What is Neuropathic Pain?
Neuropathic pain “refers to the many conditions that involve damage to the peripheral nervous system, the vast communication network that sends signals between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and all other parts of the body. Peripheral nerves send many types of sensory information to the central nervous system (CNS), such as a message that the feet are cold. They also carry signals from the CNS to the rest of the body.”
What Causes Neuropathic Pain?
- Being hurt from a fall, vehicle crash, a broken bone, or sports-related injuries can trigger neuropathy or nerve pain.
- You may also have nerve pain from kidney problems, liver disorders, hypothyroidism, cancerous or non-cancerous tumors pressing on nerves or invading their space, lymphoma, myeloma, and monoclonal gammopathy.
- Certain antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, and medicine for the human immunodeficiency virus can cause nerve pain. Some treatments can result in nerve damage, too, plus exposure to toxic substances and industrial chemicals like solvents.
Know the Symptoms
Many of the nerve pain symptoms can be treated with pain relievers or medicine like ketamine. Symptoms may include:
- You have tingling or numbness, primarily in your hands and feet.
- Differences in sensing pain, pressure, temperature, or touch.
- Falling, no coordination.
- Little feeling in your feet and hands.
- Muscle weakness.
- Muscle twitching, cramps, or spasms.
- Low blood pressure or irregular heart rate.
- Unexpected weight loss.
What are the Risks?
- Diabetes, particularly when your sugar levels are badly managed
- Alcohol abuse
- Deficiency of vitamin B and other vitamins
- Greater chance of infections like Lyme disease, shingles, herpes variations, hepatitis B and C, and human immunodeficiency virus
- Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or other autoimmune diseases where the immune system attacks bodily tissues
- Kidney, liver, or thyroid problems
- Exposure to toxins
- History of neuropathic pain in your family, especially among blood relatives
How Common Is Neuropathic Pain?
Neuropathy is very common. Besides age, some of the more common risk factors in the United States for neuropathic pain are metabolic syndrome (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity) and substantial alcohol use. If you work in a particular profession that requires repetitive motions, you may also be at greater risk of experiencing neuropathic pain.
According to one report by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, up to 10 percent of the general population – regardless of age or gender – experiences neuropathic pain at some point in their lives. This same report noted that: “Chronic neuropathic pain is more frequent in women (8% versus 5.7% in men) and in patients >50 years of age (8.9% versus 5.6% in those <49 years of age), and most commonly affects the lower back and lower limbs, neck and upper limbs.”
Among other prominently known statistics, neuropathy is present in:
- Diabetes. As many as 50 percent of people with diabetes also have nerve pain.
- Cancer. “It is estimated that 20% of cancer pain is purely neuropathic in origin. However, when mixed neuropathic-nociceptive pain is included, approximately 40% of patients with cancer are affected by neuropathic pain.”
- Chronic pain. Data from a clinical investigation estimated that up to 16 million people with chronic pain suffer from neuropathic pain.
- Neuropathic pain is also found in almost 40 percent of people who’ve been diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Neuropathic pain is hard to gauge because of the variety of symptoms it presents, but is most often diagnosed through a medical examination. Your healthcare provider will ask you to describe your pain (location, frequency, and suspected triggers) and inquire about personal and family medical history. You’ll have to undergo neurological exams, blood and bodily fluid tests, and genetic tests. Other procedures may include nerve conduction velocity tests, nerve tests, and imaging tests, but no single test or procedure will likely provide 100 percent accuracy toward a diagnosis.
Neuropathic pain is more common than you think and can sometimes be cured. It can significantly impact your life if no action is taken and generally worsens with age. Ask your healthcare provider what options are suitable for your condition and whether ketamine therapy is appropriate.