If you have ever felt unexpected numbness, tingling, or sharp pains in your hands or feet, you have likely experienced neuropathy. Neuropathy is not a singular condition, but rather nerve damage that can arise from a variety of causes. (1)
Neuropathy is typically referred to as peripheral neuropathy, which is damage to your peripheral nerves. As there are so many causes of nerve damage, the symptoms vary widely from one person to another.
When left untreated, neuropathy can quickly escalate to the point where it dramatically hinders your quality of life. Fortunately, there are many lifestyle changes that you can implement to slow down or reverse the symptoms and progression of nerve damage.
Understanding the most common signs of neuropathy is critical for early detection. If you experience any of the symptoms below, see your doctor as soon as possible. The earlier you catch it, the better the prognosis. (2)
What Does Neuropathy Feel Like?
Neuropathy occurs when damage occurs to the peripheral nervous system, dampening the communication between your brain and spinal cord (known as the central nervous system) and the rest of your body.
The symptoms that you experience depend on how this communication is interrupted. There are three communication dysfunctions that can occur:
Signaling when there shouldn’t be any signal
A disruption or complete loss of the normal signal being sent
Distortion of the signal being sent
These symptoms can range from loss of sensation, numbness, and tingling, to muscle weakness and sharp, shooting pains. These can happen anywhere in the body, however, it is most common in the hands and feet.
One common phrase that many who suffer from neuropathy use is “hot flashes.” Whether this is experienced as hot flashes in the feet, arms, legs, or all over the body, this can be an early indicator of nerve damage.
What are the Most Common Signs of Neuropathy?
It is important to be on the lookout for common, early signs of neuropathy, particularly if you suffer from a condition that has been tied to nerve damage. Some of those at highest risk are those who have or have suffered from:
- Diabetes, both type-1 and type-2
- High blood pressure
- Autoimmune diseases
- Liver or kidney conditions
- Certain cancers
Accidents, trauma, infections, and vitamin deficiencies can also lead to nerve damage. Additionally, if you are a smoker or heavy drinker, your chances of developing neuropathy are higher than that of the average population.
Sign #1: Numbness
One of the most common early symptoms of neuropathy is numbness, particularly in the feet and hands. This numbness tends to come on slowly and increase over time, and is often followed or accompanied by a tingling or prickling sensation.
As one of the more subtle and earliest signs of neuropathy, numbness is often a sign that people will ignore until more painful symptoms occur. If you realize that you have numbness before any other signs have surfaced, you may be able to avoid future complications.
Be careful to take good care of any parts of your body that become numb, particularly your feet. Injuries to the foot or foot ulcers are easily missed if you are not examining your feet regularly. It is best to always wear thick socks or other footwear to protect your feet and to check them every night for any injury or ulcer.
Peripheral neuropathy in feet and legs and related complications leads to more than 1 million annual leg amputations worldwide. (3) By taking good care of your feet, you can help to protect yourself.
Sign #2: Sharp Pains
Sharp pains, often described as a burning or shooting feeling, are one of the most disruptive symptoms of neuropathy. These pains can come and go for some, but others will experience chronic, severe pain. While most common in your arms and feet, these pains can happen anywhere on your body.
One well-known neuropathic pain conditions is sciatic nerve pain, which is a shooting pain that radiates from the hip or glute area through the rest of the leg. There are different strategies to reduce this type of pain depending on where it is and what has caused it. (4)
Sign #3:Trouble Balancing or Dizziness
Dizziness and difficulties balancing are both symptoms of vestibular neuritis. (5) This disorder is caused by damage to the vestibulocochlear nerve of the inner ear. Other symptoms can include nausea, vertigo, and troubles concentrating.
Vestibular neuritis is not the only neuropathic cause of difficulties with balance. Some people will experience balancing difficulties from the loss of feeling that occurs in their legs and feet from peripheral neuropathy. (6) Others will experience dizziness or fainting as an early symptom of autonomic neuropathy. (7)
Sign #4: Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms, twitching, or cramps are often experienced by those with neuropathy. The muscle cramps can be quite painful, and the muscle twitching is often consistent and visible under the skin. These are most common in the extremities, however, they can occur anywhere in the body.
Sign #5: Muscle Weakness
Loss of muscle strength and function can occur as either an early or later symptom in neuropathy. Eventually, some people will experience muscle shrinking as well.
You may notice this muscle weakness at first by not being able to do what you could before, like opening jars. Another example is unexpectedly dropping something.
Sign #6: Stomach Issues
Stomach issues can be a sign of autonomic neuropathy, a condition where the nerves that work with your organs are damaged. (7) Digestion, bowel movements, and urination can be impacted. You may notice bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, heartburn, lack of appetite, and increased feelings of fullness.
Sign #7: Heat and Sweating
Difficulties tolerating heat and high levels of perspiration are two additional symptoms of autonomic neuropathy. These may be accompanied by difficulties with digestion, high blood pressure, and dizziness.
Sign #8: Tightness
Tightness and stiffness are two other common symptoms of neuropathy. Others will feel like something tight is around certain parts of their body, such as feeling like you are wearing a tight sock or glove.
How do I Know if I Have Neuropathy or Nerve Damage?
If you suspect that you may have neuropathy, your doctor can help. They will conduct a physical exam and other tests to determine if your symptoms are caused by nerve damage. If you have neuropathy, they will help you come up with a plan to slow the damage and possibly reverse some of the symptoms.
Neuropathy is a growing concern as more of us suffer from conditions that increase our risk of nerve damage. Your best tool against neuropathy is catching it early and making lifestyle changes.
Even if you are experiencing neuropathy symptoms, there are reasons to be optimistic. There are many proven strategies that can help you to regain the life that you had before neuropathy. Diet, exercise, and supplements are two of the best treatment options in your arsenal, but these are not the only ways that you can find relief. Acupuncture, TENS treatment, and certain medications can help you to start feeling better.
- Neuropathic pain
- A comparison of screening tools for the early detection of peripheral neuropathy in adults with and without type 2 diabetes
- Diabetic foot care. Importance of education
- Vestibular neuritis
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Autonomic neuropathy