Is It Peripheral Neuropathy? Identifying the Early Signs

Sep 19, 2019

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that can slowly deprive your health, your mobility, and your ability to do the things you love to do.

The pain associated with this condition is bad enough. But once numbness starts to set in—and you can no longer feel your feet beneath you—your risk of developing ulcers and infections, falling, and suffering other serious complications goes through the roof.

True, revolutionary new treatments are helping us restore a much higher level of nerve function to neuropathy sufferers than we ever could before. But let’s be clear—this is still a very dangerous, progressive condition that often causes permanent damage to nerves in the feet. And the longer you let it progress, the harder it is to manage, treat, and reverse.

That means that identifying the early signs of the condition—and taking important steps toward treatment immediately—is of critical importance.

Know the Risk Factors

Before we begin here, understand that peripheral neuropathy doesn’t always have a clearly identifiable cause, or any obvious associated risk factors. About five percent of cases are idiopathic, meaning we don’t know exactly where it comes from.

That said, if you do suffer from any of the following risk factors, you should be especially vigilant:

  • Diabetes. This is by far the most common underlying cause / risk factor of peripheral neuropathy. High blood sugar causes inflammation which deprives nerves of the oxygen and nutrients they need to flourish, and eventually causes them to weaken and die. More than half of people with diabetes eventually develop some form of neuropathy.
  • Physical trauma. One or more nerves may have been damaged by an accident, injury, or even a surgical mistake.
  • Smoking. In addition to many other physical problems, smoking limits blood supply and circulation to the feet, which can damage nerves over time.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. If you aren’t getting enough of key nutrients, especially B vitamins, your nerves may not be getting the nourishment they need. Additionally, alcohol abuse often contributes to nutritional deficiencies since it prevents these key nutrients from being used efficiently by the body.
  • Autoimmune diseases. Ones known to be linked with neuropathy include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and Sjögren’s syndrome, though there are others.
  • Kidney and liver problems. If your body can’t properly filter toxins from the blood, nerves could be poisoned.

Again, these are not the only possible risk factors associated with peripheral neuropathy, and you don’t necessarily need to have any of them to develop it. However, if any of the above situations or conditions do apply to you, you should be extra vigilant.

Leg cramp, senior woman suffering from leg cramp pain at home

Early Warning Signs

Peripheral neuropathy isn’t exactly the same for everybody. The symptoms often depend on what type of nerves are damaged, and where. That said, most cases proceed through a series of stages as the disease progresses.

Some of the symptoms that are most typical of first or early-stage neuropathy include the following:

  • Itchiness
  • Tingling, prickling, or “pins-and-needles” sensation
  • Burning sensations
  • Sudden, intermittent “electric shock” pain
  • Intermittent muscle spasms or cramping
  • Hypersensitivity to touch or temperature
  • Restless leg syndrome

Often the symptoms are relatively mild and infrequent. You might go several hours, several days, or even months between episodes of discomfort. However, without taking steps to manage and reverse your neuropathy, your situation will get worse.

Later Stages of the Disease

As your peripheral neuropathy gets worse, the symptoms start to get more frequent and more intense. This could be a gradual worsening that takes many years, or much faster, depending on what’s causing it.

Eventually, pain may become so regular and intense that you need to be on several powerful medications just to try to get through your daily life. And this is really only the midpoint of peripheral neuropathy’s progression as far as stages go.

That’s because, once the nerves become sufficiently damaged, they begin to lose the ability to feel anything—including pain.

While that seems like it would be a relief to those struggling with daily pain, this is actually when neuropathy is most dangerous. Not being able to feel your feet means you have a much higher risk of all sorts of accidents and injuries, including tripping, foot ulcerations, infections, even severe deformities. You may even lose the ability to walk confidently, operate the pedals of your vehicle safely, or participate in various physical activities you once enjoyed.

And again, the longer it takes you to begin to deal with your neuropathy, the harder it will be to turn the ship around—and the greater the risk of irreparable damage and irreversible symptoms.

Don’t Wait—Act Now

First things first. If you have a diabetes diagnosis, you should be getting a comprehensive foot and ankle checkup at our office at least once per year—whether or not you have any previous history of foot problems or nerve problems.

As we said, more than half of people with diabetes eventually get some form of neuropathy. And often, there is significant nerve damage present before you even start to notice symptoms. But a nerve specialist, such as Dr. Kevin Sunshein, can help you detect a problem earlier, giving you more time to avoid or mitigate negative outcomes.

But regardless of whether or not you currently have a diabetes diagnosis, you must take any symptoms that could indicate peripheral neuropathy very seriously. If you recognize some of the early warning signs, don’t leave it to chance—give us a call.

Sunshein Podiatry Associates is one of the leading peripheral nerve treatment centers not just in Greater Dayton, but throughout Ohio and the Midwest.  We are currently the state’s only preferred provider of Neurogenx, a revolutionary advanced procedure that uses both chemical nerve blocks and electrical stimulation to not only alleviate discomfort, but help nerves to heal and restore lost function.

And although we sound like a broken record at this point, it bears repeating: The sooner you undergo these treatments and make any necessary lifestyle changes, the much better your odds for a complete and satisfying recovery—and a long, healthy, active, and pain-free lifestyle afterward.

Do you have any of the early warning signs of neuropathy? Or maybe even the not-so-early ones? The time to call us is now. Dial (937) 435-7477, or complete our online contact form to get in touch with our office today.

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