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Difference Between Neuropathy & Neuropathic Pain

Difference Between Neuropathy & Neuropathic Pain

When it comes to neurological conditions, there is often a lot of confusion surrounding the terminology. Neuropathy and neuropathic pain are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different things.

Neuropathy is a general term for any damage or dysfunction of the nervous system due to injury or disease. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, tingling, and numbness in the hands and feet.

Neuropathic pain, on the other hand, refers specifically to pain or pain conditions caused by neuropathy. So, in short, all forms of neuropathic pain result from neuropathy. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s take a closer look at each condition. 

Neuropathy

As mentioned, neuropathy is a general term for any form of damage or malfunction of the nervous system. Neuropathy mainly affects peripheral nerves (nerves located outside the brain and spinal cord), hence the name peripheral neuropathy.

The damage or malfunction can be caused by a number of factors, including physical injury, infection, chemical exposure, surgery, nutritional deficiency, autoimmune disease, alcohol abuse, and more.

Neuropathic Pain

As we also said before, neuropathic pain refers specifically to pain caused by neuropathy or damage/dysfunction of the nervous system. It can manifest as burning, shooting, stabbing, or tingling pain. Other symptoms may include:

  • Numbness or loss of sensation
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Pain
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Reduced sleep quality
  • Loss of organ function
  • Intensified pain response
  • Increased sensitivity to temperature changes

Treatment Options for Neuropathy and Neuropathic Pain

The treatment for neuropathy or neuropathic pain will vary depending on the underlying cause(s). In some cases (e.g., diabetes-related neuropathy), treatment focuses on managing the underlying condition(s). For example, if you have diabetes-related neuropathy, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes (e.g., diet modification) and medication(s) to help control the symptoms.

In other cases (e.g., shingles-related neuralgia), treatment focuses on relieving pain and other symptoms until the condition resolves itself over time (usually within several months). If the pain is chronic, long-term treatment may be necessary to provide ongoing relief and improve quality of life.

Some common treatments for both neuropathy and neuropathic pain include medications like opioids and antidepressants; topical creams/ointments like capsaicin cream; lidocaine patches; nerve block injections; lifestyle changes; physical therapy, counseling; and alternative therapies. If conservative measures don’t work, more invasive treatments like nerve block injections or surgery may be necessary to correct the nerve damage and provide relief from symptoms.  

The Takeaway

As you can see, there’s a very thin line between neuropathy and neuropathic pain, and one could be forgiven for thinking they’re the same thing. But in reality, neuropathy is a general term that refers to damage or dysfunction of the nervous system, while neuropathic pain specifically refers to pain conditions caused by neuropathy.

Nevertheless, both conditions can be quite debilitating, so it’s important to seek professional treatment as soon as possible if you’re experiencing any symptoms of neuropathy or neuropathic pain. With the right treatment plan, you can manage your symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life.

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