Neuropathy can be debilitating. It can cause frustration, and be challenging to treat. Those who suffer with any type of neuropathic pain know how important it is to find a treatment or treatments that work to relieve the symptoms of numbness, tingling, burning, and other painful sensations that accompany this condition.
There are many underlying causes of neuropathic pain. Diabetes, illness, injury, and even alcoholism can bring it on. However, in almost thirty percent of all neuropathy cases, the cause is unknown. No matter the cause, neuropathy patients need treatments that will work for them. With many treatments out there, the best thing is to consult with your doctor and try several different types of treatments to come up with a regimen that works for you. Here are different types of treatments for neuropathy pain.
Antidepressants and anticonvulsants – These medications are the first line of defense for neuropathy, especially if the cause is unknown.
Since patients with neuropathy tend to have low amounts of serotonin and norepinephrine levels, antidepressants are given to block proteins that act like re-uptake inhibitors, thereby increasing the amounts of these two important neurotransmitters.
Anticonvulsants prevent calcium from entering neurons and triggering a biochemical reaction that causes neuropathic pain. For this type of medication, one in three patients showed substantial benefit with symptoms. However, these drugs do come with their own side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, and diarrhea.
But not every case can be helped with antidepressants and anticonvulsants. For those who cannot take the drugs or don’t want to tolerate the side effects, there are some topical treatments that may be effective for your neuropathic symptoms.
numbing cream has been around since the 1940’s. numbing cream works on neuropathic pain by blocking voltage-gated sodium channels and is prescribed in 5 percent patches. Up to three patches can be applied topically on a localized painful area and worn for 24 hours.
Capsaicin is an alternative topical treatment. The active ingredient in capsaicin is derived from chili peppers, and capsaicin patches and creams are widely available over the counter for the deep-heating treatment of minor muscle pain.
Higher dosages are required for the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain and require a prescription. In one study, patients applied a single eight percent dosage patch of capsaicin. Thirty-three percent reported a 50 percent decrease in pain while 30 percent reported a thirty percent pain reduction. The effects of the patch lasted around 12 weeks.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA AND NEUROPATHY PAIN
Medical marijuana is legal in 16 U.S. states as well as Washington, D.C., and six more states have pending legislation for the legalization of medical marijuana. The benefits of this drug have been confirmed in multiple random trials. A recent review concluded that 15 out of 18 trials showed that cannabinoids (the active ingredient in medical marijuana) provided a significant pain-relieving effect when compared to a placebo. But medical marijuana, like other treatments, may only provide partial relief. If it doesn’t provide significant relief, other more traditional analgesics may be used.
PAINKILLERS FOR NEUROPATHY
Opiates are drugs that will kill almost any type of pain but these drugs come with side effects and dependency issues that make patients reluctant to try them and doctors reluctant to prescribe them. Opiates are considered third in line as a treatment option and are often prescribed on a temporary basis until the benefits of first line treatments like antidepressants and anticonvulsants kick in. Side effects of opiates include drowsiness, constipation, nausea and, with elderly patients, an increased risk of falls or cognitive problems. Some studies have shown the risk of misuse or addiction to be as high as 50 percent. However, two alternative opiate drugs, methadone and tramadol, have also shown to help with neuropathic pain and have lower risk of dependency that traditional opiates.
Acupuncture is a non-Western treatment that has been traditionally used by the Chinese for thousands of years. Although Western research has yet to understand why it works, studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in relieving some types of pain. In 2010, one study showed acupuncture to be more effective than traditional medication in relieving peripheral neuropathy pain brought about by chemotherapy drugs.
Other alternative neuropathy pain treatments include alpha-lipoic acid (a universal antioxidant), Bowen therapy (a type of massage), IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin therapy), and many folk remedies such as borage oil, evening primrose oil and nettle footbaths. Although there is little scientific evidence to show effectiveness, there is a lot of anecdotal support.
Clearly, neuropathy treatments are continuing to evolve and new treatments are being discovered every year. Which treatments you decide on should always be discussed with your doctor and a program devised that will help with your individual symptoms. Neuropathy can be relieved and a combination of treatments may be prescribed to meet your special needs.
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