The Ultimate Cheat Sheet to Neuropathy Causes & Effective Treatments

Woman with nerve pain in hand

If you’ve ever thrown water on a kitchen fire, you know first hand that water is ineffective on grease or cooking oil fires. Not only does it not extinguish the flames – it actually has the opposite effect, sending flaming balls of grease or oil airborne. In a flash the fire grows exponentially.

But why?

Isn’t water the most common and effective methods for extinguishing flames? Usually it is, but in certain situations it isn’t.

So what does this have to do with your neuropathy?

The same principles apply. Before attempting to extinguish your symptoms, it’s useful to know the cause. Perhaps you have diabetic neuropathy, chemo-induced neuropathy, etc. Once you know the cause, you can choose the most effective tools for fighting it. While many of the tools or treatments you’ll use will overlap across various causes or neuropathy types, there will also be times when a certain treatment is best suited for one situation and not another. Understanding this will make a significant difference as you treat your neuropathy.

To help get you on the path to better, more effective treatment, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the most common causes of neuropathy and the best options for treating each one. We’re not suggesting you self-diagnose the cause of your neuropathy, of course, but this guide can help you be more prepared as you work with your doctor to determine the cause.

 

Most Common Causes of Neuropathy:

 

CAUSE: DIABETES

According to the National Institutes of Health, between 60 and 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy. [1] The risk of developing neuropathy increases with age and with the duration of diabetes. High levels of blood sugar, combined with a variety of other factors, damage nerve cells and result in neuropathy. For some, no symptoms will be manifested. In many cases, however, symptoms such as pain, tingling or numbness will occur.

Diabetes infographic

 

Treatments:

Manage Blood Sugar:

The most effective way to slow, stop and even reverse diabetic neuropathy is to control blood sugar levels. Maintaining a healthy balance of blood sugar help the nerves to heal and regenerate.

 

Check your medications:

Some medications used to treat diabetes have been linked to neuropathy. Among them is the popular drug Metformin. Check with your doctor to make sure your medication isn’t causing your neuropathy. Review our list of 65 Medications That Can Cause Neuropathy to see if anything you’re taking is on the list.

 

Plant-based Diet:

Research has shown that a plant-based diet can help reduce the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy[2]. Studies suggest that a plant-based diet helps improve insulin resistance, resulting in positive effects on diabetic nerve pain. One important note is that plant-based diets are often low on Vitamin B12 – a crucial vitamin for nerve health. Consider taking a daily B12 supplement if on a plant-based diet.

Click to read 10 Healing Foods to Ease Nerve Pain >

 


 

CAUSE: CHEMOTHERAPY & CANCER DRUGS

Another leading cause of neuropathy is chemotherapy. Between 30 and 40 percent of chemotherapy patients develop Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy (CPIN). Chemotherapy patients who have previously gone through chemotherapy or radiation treatment are more likely to develop CPIN. Other factors that can increase the risk of CPIN are:

  • Diabetes
  • Alcohol abuse
  • HIV or AIDS
  • High doses or longer treatments using cancer drugs
  • Taking multiple drugs whose side effects include nerve damage

 

So, which cancer-related drugs are most likely to cause neuropathy? Here’s a list:

  • Bortezomib and carfilzomib
  • Cytrarabine
  • Eribulin
  • Fluorouracil
  • Interferon
  • Ixabepilone
  • Methotrexate
  • Platinum drugs (i.e. isplatin, oxaliplatin, carboplatin)
  • Podophyllotoxins (i.e. etoposide and teniposide)
  • Taxanes (i.e.  paclitaxel, docetaxel, cabazitaxel)
  • Thalidomide, lenalidomide and pomalidomide
  • Vinca alkaloids (i.e. vinblastine, vincristine, vinorelbine)

 

Treatments:

Alter dosage or stop treatments:

If your doctor determines that chemotherapy is causing your neuropathy, he or she may recommend lowering the dosage or stopping the treatment until the symptoms subside.

 

Supplements:

Certain supplements may help reduce the symptoms of CIPN and help maintain the health of your nerves. These include supplements like calcium, magnesium, acetyl-l-carnitine, alpha-lipoic-acid, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins (especially B1 and B12), glutathione and more. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplement as they may interfere or reduce the effectiveness of your treatments.

 


 

Cause: VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY

Vitamin B12 is absolutely essential for protecting your nerves. It helps build up and maintain the layer of protective fat around the nerves (known as the Myelin Sheath). When you don’t get enough B12, this layer begins to weaken and deteriorate – ultimately leading to nerve damage if left unaddressed.

 

What nerve damage looks like

 

Treatments:

Take B12 Supplements or eat more B12-rich foods:

This one is obvious – if a lack of vitamin B12 is causing your neuropathy, then getting more of it is the solution. The tricky part is that vitamin B12 has an extremely poor absorption rate, so very little of it makes it into your system. That’s why it’s important to take a sufficient dosage and to consistently take it everyday. If you are vegan, be sure to take a B12 supplement, as plant-based diets are often low in B12!

 


 

CAUSE: MEDICATIONS

While medications help us with a wide array of ailments – they come with some risks. In fact, there are a number of medications that have been linked to neuropathy. Cholesterol lowering statins are among some of the more common drugs linked to neuropathy, as are some diabetes, cancer and blood pressure related medications. Fluoroquinolones, which are antibiotics that are commonly used to treat a variety of illnesses such as respiratory and urinary tract infections, have also been linked to nerve damage. Click the image below for a comprehensive list of 65 medications that have been linked to neuropathy.

65 Medications that can cause neuropathy

 

Treatments:

Reduce dosage or stop usage:

The best thing you can do if a drug you’re using is causing neuropathy is to recognize the symptoms early and discuss them with your doctor. The earlier you catch it, the better your chance of stopping the spread of symptoms and even reversing the damage. Your doctor may recommend reducing the dosage or ceasing the medication completely. If stopping the medicine completely, he or she will typically offer an alternative medication that doesn’t carry the risk of neuropathy.

 

Supplements:

You will also want to take nerve-boosting supplements to help stop the damage from spreading and to help regenerate damaged nerves.

 

MORE: Top 10 Herbs & Supplements for Nerve Pain

 


 

CAUSE: SURGERY

Many people experience the troublesome symptoms of neuropathy after surgery. In some cases, the stretching or compression of nerves during surgery causes the damage. Researchers have more recently discovered that post-surgery nerve inflammation also causes pain, tingling and numbness.

 

Treatment:

Supplements:

Nerve-boosting supplements can help damaged nerves to properly heal and regenerate – increasing the likelihood of full recovery. One of our first employees, Marsha, suffered from neuropathy for years after a surgical operation. After discovering and taking Nerve Renew Neuropathy Support Formula, she experienced a full recovery from her postsurgical neuropathy.

 

Yoga or Tai Chi:

The stretches and body movements used in alternative exercises like yoga and tai chi have been shown to be beneficial to patients suffering from neuropathy. The exercises help develop useful habits and techniques for coping with and minimizing pain.

 


 

 

Other Potential Causes:

 

Alcohol Consumption

Heavy alcohol consumption over an extended period of time may result in neuropathy. Heavy users are often lacking in important vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin B12 since the alcohol blocks their absorption.

 

Exposure to toxic substances

Exposure to toxic substances like heavy metals or certain chemicals may result in nerve damage.

 

Infections & Tumors

Tumors and infections can put pressure on the nerves and wreak havoc on the peripheral nervous system. Some common infections that could lead to neuropathy are Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, diphtheria, hepatitis C, shingles and HIV.

 

Autoimmune Diseases

When the immune system begins attacking different systems within the body, it can result in neuropathy. Autoimmune diseases like Sjogren’s Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Guilliain Barre syndrome may cause neuropathy.

 

Trauma or Repeated Pressure on Nerves

From a traumatic accident like a vehicle collision to a seemingly harmless thing like sitting for long periods of time and putting repeated pressure on the nerves, both can cause the symptoms of neuropathy. Recovery will depend in large part on the extent of the damage to your nerve.

 

Kidney Disorders

As much as 50% of people with a kidney disorder will develop neuropathy. As a kidney begins to fail, extra fluids and waste begin to fill the body – sometimes resulting in nerve damage.

 

Inherited Disorders

Some neuropathies are hereditary. There are four types of hereditary neuropathy:

  • Hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy
  • Hereditary sensory neuropathy
  • Hereditary motor neuropathy
  • Hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy

Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most common hereditary neuropathies, and falls into the motor and sensory category.

 

Regardless of the cause of your peripheral neuropathy, boosting the health of your nerves through proper diet and supplementation can help slow the spread of your symptoms. However, the sooner you and your doctor can pinpoint a cause, the quicker you can identify and begin the most effective treatment for your symptoms.

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/diabetic-neuropathies-nerve-damage-diabetes/Pages/diabetic-neuropathies-nerve-damage.aspx

[2] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/294424.php

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