Neuropathy isn’t a single disease, but rather a collection of conditions caused by damage to your nerves. There are two main types of neuropathy:
Peripheral neuropathy affects your somatic, or voluntary, nervous system, which consists of the muscles that control body movement. The somatic nervous system consists of nerves that connect to your muscles, skin, and sensory organs. Peripheral neuropathy typically affects the hands and feet. It can come and go, or it can progress slowly over the years.
Autonomic neuropathy affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary body functions like breathing, heartbeat, and digestion. It can cause problems with regulating body temperature, blood pressure, saliva production, and swallowing, among other involuntary functions.
The most recognizable symptoms of neuropathy include pain, numbness, or tingling in the affected areas–generally the hands, arms, feet, and legs. But these aren’t the only symptoms that could indicate neuropathy. Broader problems may occur, and understanding these lesser-known symptoms of neuropathy can help ensure an early diagnosis, which is essential for slowing its progression and reducing the intensity of symptoms.
These are seven of the most common signs of neuropathy.
Stabbing pains that feel like jolts of electricity or burning sensations in the affected area may indicate neuropathy. This pain occurs due to damage to the sensory nerves or the coating that protects them. The affected body part may become more sensitive to touch and pressure, and in some cases, even a light touch can produce intense pain. For example, many people suffering from neuropathy are affected in the feet, and even the pressure of bed sheets while sleeping can cause excruciating pain.
Numbness and tingling associated with neuropathy can occur anywhere on the body, but it typically affects the hands and feet, where the nerves are most vulnerable to damage. Numbness can cause a number of problems, including being unaware of pain that can indicate injury, such as sores, blisters, and burns. Examining your limbs daily for signs of injury is essential if you’re experiencing numbness in your extremities.
Nerve damage an affect the digestive system, disrupting normal digestive processes and slowing the process of emptying the stomach. This may cause a number of ailments, including bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, a loss of appetite, and feeling full after small amounts of food.
Neuropathy can cause problems with balance, especially if it affects the feet or legs. A recent study found that people with neuropathy experience a bigger separation between their body’s center of mass and the center of pressure during movement, resulting in a loss of balance. This can lead to falls and other injuries.
Cramping or twitching muscles are a sign of neuropathy that can cause painful sensations and discomfort. Your nerves are often entwined with the muscles, and constricting and releasing the muscles can pull on the nerves, causing further damage as well as the cramping, twitching, and sensations of pain.
Damaged nerves can weaken the muscles and make it harder to control their movement. Weakened muscles in the hands and feet are common signs of neuropathy. This muscle weakness can lead to muscle atrophy and weakened reflexes. Low impact exercise and certain supplements can help improve muscle strength and reduce muscle shrinking.
Neuropathy can cause profuse sweating or the inability to sweat at all. This is due to the autonomic nerves that are affected. Excessive sweating usually occurs on the upper body. The inability to sweat can cause problems with your body’s temperature regulation as well as dry out the skin on your feet.
While these seven symptoms are among the most commonly associated with neuropathy, a variety of symptoms may appear. Understanding your type of neuropathy and which nerves are affected can help you better manage your symptoms through a variety of pathways and monitor your condition for improvements and declines.