What is nerve damage?
Nerve damage is also called as peripheral neuropathy. Nerve damage can be a complication of diabetes. But the fact is nerve damage can occur due to major injury.
When a nerve is injured, it loses the ability to transmit signals to the brain. Partially damaged nerves can heal themselves.
The nerves on your feet, arms and hands are prone to damage. Depending on the severity of the damage, the nerve injury happens.
The nerve is covered with fibres called axons and acts as an insulator. In most cases, the nerve fibres protect the nerve from getting damaged. But when there is severe damage, the nerve fibre will not be able to protect the nerve. As a result, the nerve gets damaged.
In major accidents, there are high chances of nerves getting cut off completely. However, these damaged nerves can be repaired if they are treated immediately.
When there is nerve damage certain, there will be a pain, and the signals will not be properly transmitted. The common symptoms of nerve damage are
- Painful sensation in the legs, hands and feet.
- Often dropping objects that a person is holding and
- Feeling of grip less.
The symptoms are mostly localised at the area of injury. For example, if a person has nerve damage in their hand, the person will experience pain in hand.
Types of nerve damage
Autonomic nerve damage or autonomic neuropathy occurs when there is damage to the nerve that controls autonomic body functions like digestion, blood pressure and sexual desires.
The damage occurs in the nerves that help to send signals from the brain to other organs like blood vessels and sweat glands.
The motor nerve is associated with voluntary actions like walking and holding objects. Damage to the motor nerves causes weakness.
The motor nerves control movement like walking, running, talking and grasping or holding an object. They mostly regulate the functions that are carried out under conscious control.
Motor nerve damage can cause cramps, muscle weakness and shrinking and uncontrolled twitching.
The sensory nerves control the senses like touch, the temperature of an object, pain and vibrations. When there is damage to the sensory nerves, the feeling of touch gets affected.
The sensory nerve causes numbness in the hands and feet, causing the person to sense nothing. This affects balance and loss of reflux.
Symptoms of autonomic nerve damage
A person who has autonomic nerve damage will have the symptom of lightheadedness or fainting sensation. This is caused due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Dry eyes are caused when autonomic nerve damage occurs. The autonomic nervous system controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
The parasympathetic nervous system regulates the tear glands, and when there is damage to the tear gland, it can cause dry eyes.
Autonomic nerve damage can affect the digestive system. It can cause constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and fullness.
When the bladder nerves have been affected, the sensation of urinating decreases and a person will not know when to urinate and when the bladder is empty. The bladder may start to become dysfunctional, and urine leakage may occur.
Autonomic nerve damage can affect the sexual nerves. It can lead to erectile dysfunction and ejaculation problems. Women might face lubrication problems and have fewer orgasm.
Symptoms of motor nerve damage
Motor nerve damage commonly causes muscle weakness and shrinkage.
Muscle atrophy is the thinning of muscle mass. When the motor nerves are damaged, it can cause muscle atrophy.
Muscle twitching is also called muscle fasciculation, which causes muscle contractions in the affected region of the nerve.
Paralysis is caused when the nerve damage is very severe like the nerve has been fully cut off. In such cases, it can lead to paralysis.
Symptoms of sensory nerve damage
Pain is a common symptom of sensory nerve damage. Pain can reduce physical activity.
Motor nerves can cause a feeling of sensitivity. Even a small object can be very sensitive to the person.
Sensory nerve damage can cause numbness in the feet and hands.
Tingling or prickling
A tingling or prickling sensation may be caused due to damage in the sensory nerves.
A person affected with sensory nerve damage can have a burning sensation in their hands and legs.
Problems with positional awareness
Sensory nerves can affect a person’s movement. People may tend to fall often, be unable to walk in a straight line and tend to bump suddenly.
Causes of nerve damage
The causes of nerve damage can be due to various reasons, and some are elaborated below.
Autoimmune diseases attack their own cells and cause major complications. In nerve damage, the immune cells attack the nerves and cause diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and lupus.
In Guillain-Barre syndrome, the body’s own immune system attacks the nerves and damages them. It can cause weakness and tingle in the affected person’s feet and hands.
Usually, the symptoms start with weakness and tingling and spread, which can lead to paralysis. The Guillain-Barre syndrome cannot be treated at home, and the affected person will require immediate hospitalisation.
The cause of the syndrome is unknown, but the onset of symptoms starts as early as six weeks.
Currently, there is no cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome, but there are many treatments available to ease the symptoms. With the help of treatment, most people recover from the disorder but severely affected people can be fatal.
The recovery from the disorder may take several years. However, people can recover from the condition after six months from the date of onset of the symptoms. There can be lasting effects like weakness and numbness.
Cancer and tumours can grow near the strands of nerves and can affect the function of the nerve. It reduces the capability of the nerve to transmit signals to the brain. The growth of such tumours is called peripheral nerve tumours.
These tumours can grow in any place of the body, and most of them are not cancerous. However, the growth of such tumours can lead to severe pain and loss of function.
The peripheral nerve tumours can only be removed with surgery, but the tumour cannot be removed without damaging the other healthy cells.
Trauma or physical injury is the most common cause of nerve injury. Major accidents, a bad fall or nerve compression can cause nerve damage.
Major trauma can cause severe nerve damage that can even cut the nerve off. In such cases, surgery can help.
When a fracture happens during injury, the bones can exert pressure and cause the nerve to damage.
Diabetes is the leading cause of nerve damage. When the blood glucose level is not in control, it leads to neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy causes nerve damage which leads to numbness and tingling in the hands and legs.
According to a research paper published in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it stated that about 60% of people experience a mild form of nerve damage.
The common symptoms of nerve damage due to diabetes include burning feet, numbness, tingling and pain.
Drug side effects
The use of medication can have side effects. Long-term medication use can have side effects like nerve damage.
Local anaesthetics can block nerve conduction and cause nerve damage. However, these damages are based on chronic usage.
Motor neuron diseases
Motor neuron disease is a condition that affects the brain and nerves. The symptoms worsen as time passes.
Currently, there is no cure for motor neuron diseases, but there are medications to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Motor neuron diseases can be life-threatening and fatal if left untreated. Usually, people in the age of 70s get affected, but it can affect anyone of all ages.
Vitamin B12 deficiency causes damage to the myelin sheath. Myelin sheaths are nerve fibres that protect the nerve from damage.
Viruses like Varicella-zoaster, West Nile virus, herpes simplex and cytomegalovirus can cause nerve damage.
Varicella-zoaster causes chicken pox, and shingles can lead to facial paralysis. The virus targets sensory fibres, which cause a sharp pain in the affected nerve area.
The common symptoms of nerve damage caused by the virus are sharp pain, tingling, stabbing and numbness in the hands and legs.
Treatments of nerve damage
Depending upon the symptoms and cause of nerve damage, treatments are available. Some damages cannot be cured fully, but there are medications available to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Regulating blood sugar levels for people with diabetes
High blood glucose levels can lead to diabetic neuropathy. It is always advised to keep a check on a person’s blood glucose level. Physical activity may help in regulating blood glucose levels.
Correcting nutritional deficiencies
Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to nerve damage. The deficiency also affects about how a nutrient is absorbed by the body. If there is a deficiency in vitamin B12, the body will lose the ability to absorb minerals like iron.
Foods like eggs, clams and red meat are rich in vitamin B12. Consuming such foods can reduce the deficiency.
Changing medications when drugs are causing nerve damage
There are medications that can damage the nerve. When you experience any kind of symptoms, consult your doctor about changing the medication.
There are many physical therapies available for nerve damage. Physical therapy does not cure any damage but may help with the symptoms. Physiotherapy can help reduce pain.
According to a paper published in NCBI, it stated that aromatherapy massage has shown to reduce and manage pain effectively. Other techniques that have shown to be effective are relaxation techniques and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and acupuncture.
Medications to treat autoimmune conditions
There are many drugs to treat autoimmune diseases. Drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) and glucocorticoids can treat autoimmune diseases.
Diagnosis of nerve damage
The diagnosis depends on the symptoms, and the doctor will suggest the diagnostic method.
CT scan test
Imaging tests like CT scans will help to look for any compressed nerves, tumour growth and herniated discs.
MRI scan test
The MRI test will be more clear about structural lesions, and these identifications may help prevent permanent nerve damage.
The nerve damage can occur due to various reasons like a traumatic accident, autoimmune disease and medications. Some nerve damage can be cured, but most of them cannot be cured.
The symptoms can be treated and help improve the quality of life. Early diagnosis can prevent life-threatening conditions.
Can nerve damage be repaired?
The nerve damage can be repaired with surgery. The surgeon will completely remove the damaged nerve and replace the nerve with healthy nerves.
What indicates nerve damage?
Symptoms like weakness, pain and numbness in the hands and legs can indicate nerve damage.
How does a neurologist determine if you have nerve damage?
The neurologist may help determine the nerve damage by measuring the electric activity. Non-invasive neurological evaluations like electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NVC) can also help detect nerve damage.
Is nerve damage permanent?
Nerve damage can be treated in most cases. In rare cases, the damage may be permanent.