You probably know the feeling well: a tingling, burning, or numb feeling that starts in your hands or feet. Your feet might feel cold even during the summer, or your hands might feel weak when you button a shirt. These common neuropathy symptoms can be frustrating, and it may make you wonder—is there any way to reverse neuropathy?
The answer is complicated, which is why board-certified neurologist Dr. Maria DeCastro explains what patients need to know about treating (and potentially reversing) neuropathy.
What is neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage. Our nervous systems are responsible for sending all kinds of information from our brains and spinal cords into the rest of our bodies. When our nerves are damaged, it can lead to pain, numbness, weakness, and even issues with some bodily functions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include:
- A burning or shooting pain in the limbs
- Pain when something brushes over your skin, like covering your feet with a blanket
- Tingling, a pins-and-needles sensation, or feeling like a limb “fell asleep” for no reason
- Numbness or a cold feeling in the hands or feet
- Feeling unsteady or uncoordinated
- Muscle twitches
If neuropathy affects your autonomic nervous system, you may notice issues with specific bodily functions. That can include:
- Excessive sweating or not sweating at all
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy after standing up
- Heart palpitations or sudden changes in heart rate
- Problems with urination, including losing control of the bladder
- Digestive issues, including nausea/vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or problems swallowing
If you start noticing new symptoms or if the pain starts getting worse than usual, Dr. DeCastro urges you to talk to a doctor right away. They can help prevent nerve damage from getting worse or spreading.
Causes of Neuropathy
There are many different causes of nerve damage. Some patients with chronic conditions might notice neuropathy developing slowly over time. Others might struggle with neuropathy right after a sudden accident or injury.
Some causes of neuropathy include (but aren’t limited to):
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Tumors (which can put pressure on nerves)
- Autoimmune diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and others)
- Hereditary disorders
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Some medications or treatments (like chemotherapy)
When doctors can determine the exact cause of nerve pain, it’s called idiopathic neuropathy.
If you’re not sure why you’re experiencing neuropathy, a neurologist can help diagnose the cause of your symptoms. Your doctor will ask you about your medical history, family history, and your current lifestyle. They may also perform exams or order tests to look for an underlying condition.
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Can neuropathy be reversed?
Whether or not neuropathy can be reversed depends on the cause of the nerve damage. In some cases, the pain may go away entirely. In others, nerve damage may be permanent.
For example, when neuropathy is caused by an infection, symptoms might go away completely when the infection is treated. If symptoms are caused by a tumor pressing on a nerve, removing the tumor can relieve pain.
However, some damage might be permanent for patients with diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage associated with diabetes), especially if it’s left untreated for long periods. That doesn’t mean there’s no hope—the right combination of treatments and lifestyle changes may greatly improve symptoms in people with diabetes.
Treatments for Neuropathy
The right treatment for neuropathy will depend on the cause of your pain and what kinds of symptoms you’re experiencing. It may take some time to figure out the kinds of treatments that work best for you.
For example, patients with diabetic neuropathy often find the best relief by combining medication and dietary changes to help manage their diabetes and control their blood sugar.
Some common treatments include:
- Medication. Your doctor might prescribe medication to relieve pain or treat the underlying condition causing your symptoms. Medication often works best when used with other treatments.
- Physical therapy. For some, physical therapy can help you build strength and relieve some of the aches and stiffness that can accompany neuropathic pain.
- Dietary changes. Your neurologist might refer you to a dietician if you have nerve pain that’s caused or aggravated by nutritional imbalances or high blood sugar. A dietician can help you build good eating habits to promote your nerve health.
- Surgery. In some cases, pain might be caused by a tumor pressing on a nerve or an orthopedic problem like a fracture or herniated disc. Surgery to remove the tumor or correct a problem may help relieve pain.
For most, a combination of different treatments is the best way to combat neuropathic pain. Your neurologist can help figure out a treatment path that’s both effective and doable for you.
Long-Term Management & Prevention
Even for patients who can’t be completely cured of neuropathy, there are ways to stop the pain from getting worse or spreading. Here are some tips:
- Take medication exactly as prescribed. If you’ve been given medication for diabetes or another condition, don’t skip doses or stop taking it without consulting your doctor. If you’re taking your medication and still in pain, talk to your neurologist for help.
- Don’t ignore your pain. Talk to your doctor right away if you start feeling new or worsening pain. They may be able to help symptoms from getting worse.
- Take care of your feet. Diabetic neuropathy often begins in the feet—but it’s easy to miss the first signs of nerve damage. Keep an eye out for cuts or blisters that are slow to heal, and don’t ignore pain or numbness. Check out more tips for healthy feet from the CDC.
- Stop smoking. There’s an increased risk of neuropathy in people with diabetes who smoke. Quitting smoking can improve your circulation and may help reduce pain.
- Eat a balanced diet. A diet filled with fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains can help control your blood sugar and provide your body with essential nutrients. If you’re struggling with your diet, talk to your doctor for help.
Talk to a Neurologist for Help With Your Pain
Whether you’ve been struggling with neuropathy for a long time or are just starting to notice symptoms, a neurologist can help.
To learn about your options, call (813) 315-1535 or click here schedule an appointment with Dr. DeCastro at an office in Brandon or Zephyrhills. The sooner you talk to a doctor, the better chance you have of controlling your pain and preventing it from getting worse.
About Maria DeCastro, DO
Dr. Maria DeCastro is a board-certified neurologist. She spent the first part of her career traveling the country to help out at military hospitals, university medical centers, rural HMOs, and everywhere in between. Now after settling in Tampa, Dr. DeCastro focuses on providing generalized neurological care with interests in headache medicine and epilepsy.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so talk with your doctor to learn what treatment options are best for you.