While as many as 20 million Americans may suffer from peripheral neuropathy, some may not realize they have it. Or, if they have it, not all of them know much about what it is or what can be done about it.
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care has worked with many patients suffering from neuropathy over the years, and we enjoy being able to help educate them, along with their caregivers and family members about how to manage the condition that can include pain and other often unpleasant neurological sensations.
While no widespread complete cure has been found yet, such as one universal pill, injection or vaccine, there are a variety of products and treatment options that can sometimes provide relief.
Many medical experts say that the earlier a person is properly diagnosed, the sooner a course of action can be figured out.
These efforts may slow its progression or at least teach some good lifelong habits to manage it and minimize further pain.
But at the same time, proper neuropathy management can be useful to Cedar Rapids-area patients in other stages of life, including those receiving home health care or hospice care.
Their primary health care provider may not be eager about creating a long-term pain management strategy. Instead, he or she may want to first focus on addressing and soothing current levels of pain. The opinion, expertise and observations from loved ones and caregivers and the patient’s pain can be taken into account as well.
This spring is a perfect opportunity to learn more about neuropathy.
The American Neuropathy Association and other related organizations, including the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, or AANEN, have dedicated the third week of May every year to National Neuropathy Awareness Week.
In 2018, the celebration will take place May 13-19, with the purpose of recognizing symptoms, working with patients to prevent or minimize its progression, and educate the public about risk factors.
What Is Neuropathy
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines peripheral neuropathy as what happens when something disrupts or damages the process where nerves are transmitted to the brain and the spinal cord.
This often results in affected areas feeling unusual sensations, everything from tingling to pain to cold even when the environment is warm. Areas of the skin can also become extremely sensitive to pressure and touch, and even light touches can cause pain.
People with advanced neuropathy may have problems sleeping, experience paralysis, muscle failure or problems with organs or other bodily functions.
In many cases, neuropathy may begin with extremities, such as toes and fingers, and work itself up to the core of the body through the hands and feet.
Although neuropathy is rarely fatal by itself, it can be unpleasant to many patients. Symptoms may stabilize for a few years and return, or constantly affect the same areas and never advance.
One of the more confusing aspects of this condition is that there isn’t always a definite cause. Some people acquire it from trauma, such as if nerves are badly damaged in an accident or injury. Repetitive stress can be a cause, as can a variety of chronic or acute health conditions, everything from diabetes to autoimmune diseases.
Clients who have neuropathy may also have suffered from cancers, infections, kidney disorders, or toxin exposure.
Whatever the cause, or even if the cause is never known, becoming aware of the condition is a good first step. Providers may look at each individual symptom rather than looking for an overall diagnosis of neuropathy.
Once it’s identified, people can take steps to learn to live with it, which can include taking steps to minimize further pain.
These can include:
- Looking at underlying causes, which can be as simple as checking for vitamin deficiencies or trauma.
- Eating a healthy diet can help reduce inflammation that can be aggravating nerve pain.
- Increasing exercise, which can strengthen muscles and blood flow.
- Avoiding toxins such alcohol or nicotine
- Wearing thicker gloves or socks to reduce feelings of coldness or possible risk of damage to hands and feet in actual freezing situations.
- Medication, which can include anti-inflammatories or immunosuppressants.
Clients with neuropathy in a home health care or hospice setting in the Cedar Rapids area may require less of a focus on experimenting with different treatment methods, trying to determine allergens, proper diet and testing medication. Instead, providers may want to first determine ways to reduce current pain levels and improve quality of life.
This can include a provider prescribing narcotics or non-steroid inflammatory medication. If a patient has difficulty swallowing, an IV could be set up if the patient is unable to swallow traditional medication.
Above and Beyond Home Health Care can offer patients access to a variety of providers, specialists and other caring individuals, including some familiar with neuropathy from treating patients, and some who may have it themselves.