Neuropathic pain is a type of chronic pain caused by damage to the nervous system. This can include damage to the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves.
When nerve fibers are damaged, they start misfiring and sending pain signals to the brain even when there is no actual cause or pain trigger. This can cause a lot of discomfort and make it hard to function normally.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 American adults over the age of 30 years suffers from chronic pain. Neuropathic pain is one of the most debilitating chronic pain conditions and can significantly reduce the quality of life.
Without proper treatment, neuropathic pain can get worse over time and may even lead to short-term or long-term disability.
Cause of Neuropathic Pain
There are several possible causes of neuropathic pain, including injury, infection, surgery, tumors, and autoimmune diseases.
Injury: Damage to the nervous system from an injury (trauma, surgery, etc.) is a common cause of neuropathic pain.
Infection: Certain infections can lead to nerve damage and neuropathic pain. Examples include shingles, HIV/AIDS, and Lyme disease.
Surgery: Sometimes, surgery can damage nerves and lead to neuropathic pain. This is more common with surgeries that involve the spine or brain.
Tumors: Both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors can compress or damage nerves, leading to neuropathic pain.
Autoimmune diseases: Conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis can damage the nervous system and cause neuropathic pain.
Other possible causes of neuropathic pain include alcoholism, facial nerve problems, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), chemotherapy medication side effects, amputation, spinal nerve compression, and radiation therapy.
Symptoms of Neuropathic Pain
There are many different types of neuropathic pain, and each type has its own set of symptoms. The most common symptoms include severe spontaneous or evoked pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.
Most people also report increased sensitivity to touch or temperature changes, fatigue, muscle stiffness, sleep problems, and depressive mood.
What Are Some Examples of Neuropathic Pain?
Neuropathic pain can affect any part of the body. Some common examples of neuropathic pain include:
Phantom Limb Pain
This is a type of neuropathic pain that occurs after an amputation. The brain continues receiving “false” pain signals as if the missing limb was in pain. This can be a very debilitating condition that is hard to treat.
Post-herpetic neuralgia is a type of neuropathic pain that occurs when the nerves are damaged after a bout of shingles. Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. After the rash goes away, some people may continue to experience pain, numbness, and tingling due to nerve damage.
Diabetic neuropathy is a type of neuropathic pain that can occur in people with diabetes. It is caused by damage to the nerves from high blood sugar levels. Diabetic neuropathy can cause various symptoms, including pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.
When the joints are inflamed from arthritis, it can damage the nerves and lead to pain. Arthritis is one of the most common forms of neuropathic pain. There are many different types of arthritis, with the two most common being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Cancer pain is a type of neuropathic pain that can be caused by cancerous tumors. The tumors can compress or damage nerves, leading to pain. Cancer pain can be very debilitating and hard to treat. Non-cancerous tumors can also lead to chronic pain.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a type of neuropathic pain that can occur after an injury or fracture in the limbs. It is characterized by severe pain, swelling, and changes in the skin color of the affected limb.
This is a type of neuropathic pain that affects the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for sensations in the face. Trigeminal neuralgia can cause severe, sharp, and stabbing pain in the cheek, jaw, or teeth.
The Bottom Line
Neuropathic pain is a crippling condition that can lead to serious disability if left untreated. If you suspect you may be suffering from neuropathic pain, it is crucial to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.