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What Causes Neuropathic Pain?

What Causes Neuropathic Pain?

If you turn your neck a certain way, you sometimes feel a stabbing pain that makes you stop what you’re doing until it goes away. Another time, you get up too fast and a headache follows. What’s going on? You may be experiencing neuropathic pain. Thankfully, its symptoms can be managed, and knowing what causes them may help.

What Is The Nervous System?

The nervous system is a vital component of what makes us who we are. Without a functioning nervous system, we wouldn’t survive in a world filled with occasional danger or risks. It’s a multifaceted, sophisticated system that manages and organizes bodily activities. It is made up of the:

  • Central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)
  • Peripheral nervous system, or all remaining neural elements, like the peripheral and the autonomic nerves

Occasionally, something goes wrong, and you experience neuropathic pain.

What Is Its Main Function?

The chief function of the nervous system is that it allows you to interact with the world around you; it organizes, explains, and directs everything you encounter in daily life. It’s responsible for:

  • Feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting.
  • Voluntary and involuntary functions, including movement, balance, coordination, and regulating actions of most other bodily systems, like blood flow and blood pressure.
  • Your means to think and reason. The nervous system gives rise to consciousness, thinking, memories, and language.

Neuropathic Pain and Its Many Causes

Neuropathic or nerve pain can happen when the nervous system is hurt or not working as it should. It can emanate from any of the different levels of the nervous system. The central nervous system is specific to the spinal cord and the brain, but nerves in other areas of the body can be hurt, too, especially in places like your organs, arms, fingers, legs, and toes. When something goes wrong, damaged nerve fibers respond by transmitting incorrect signals to pain centers throughout the body.

But how does something go wrong, and what causes neuropathic pain?

  • Autoimmune diseases like chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Guillain-Barre syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and vasculitis.
  • Diabetes is the most common cause of nerve pain, with nearly half of those with it eventually getting neuropathy.
  • Viral or bacterial infections, like diphtheria, Epstein-Barr virus, leprosy, hepatitis B and C, HIV, Lyme disease, and shingles. 
  • Other neuropathy-triggering infections include meningitis, encephalitis, polio, and epidural abscess.
  • Certain inherited disorders can trigger neuropathic pain, including Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
  • Tumors and growths, cancerous and noncancerous, can occur on the nerves or press on them and cause severe pain. Some cancers linked to the body’s immune response may give rise to polyneuropathy, another kind of nerve pain which is a type of degenerative disorder called paraneoplastic syndrome.
  • Bone marrow disorders such as monoclonal gammopathies, a form of bone cancer called myeloma, lymphoma, and even amyloidosis.
  • Connective tissue disorders, kidney disease, liver disease, and hypothyroidism.
  • Alcoholism can result in poor dietary habits which can lead to vitamin deficiencies and nerve pain.
  • Regular exposure to toxins, industrial chemicals, and heavy metals including lead and mercury.
  • Chemotherapy or other medicine used to treat cancer.
  • Injury or pressure on nerves due to car accidents, falls, or sports injuries which can sever or harm peripheral nerves. Having a cast, using crutches, or repeating a motion like typing can lead to neuropathic pain.
  • You could have a vitamin deficiency, particularly B vitamins which are vital to nerve health.
  • Stroke, transient ischemic attack, subarachnoid hemorrhage, subdural hemorrhage and hematoma, and extradural hemorrhage.
  • Structural disorders, such as brain or spinal cord injury, brain or spinal cord tumors, Bell’s palsy, cervical spondylosis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Functional disorders, like dizziness, epilepsy, headaches, and neuralgia
  • Degenerative disorders like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Huntington chorea, and Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of nerve pain can sometimes be treated, but that normally depends on seeing a healthcare professional for diagnosis.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Successfully diagnosing nerve pain often depends on a thorough medical examination and neurological evaluation. Any signs of nerve damage could result in certain tests being ordered, including:

  • Electromyography, where a thin-needle electrode gets inserted into the muscle to record the muscle’s electrical activity during rest and movement.
  • Nerve conduction study to assess how efficiently electrical signals move through the nerves.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging to make detailed images of areas possibly harmed by nerve damage.
  • Ultrasound, which also produces high-resolution images of areas where there’s suspected nerve damage.

Nerve pain can be treated, most often with pain relievers, diet and lifestyle changes, and ketamine infusion therapy.

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