Neuropathic Pain
(Nerve Pain)

Neuropathic Pain Summary
Neuropathic pain is chronic pain resulting from injury to the nervous system. The injury can be to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or the peripheral nervous system (nerves outside the brain and spinal cord).
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What is neuropathy and neuropathic pain?

Neuropathy is a dysfunction of nerves leading to loss of sensation. Although many people develop neuropathy, a limited number of those people go on to experience pain associated with their symptoms. This condition is known as painful neuropathy, and the pain is described as neuropathic pain.

The specific reason that pain develops with neuropathy isn't known. Several theories have been proposed; one theory suggests that when nerve cells are unable to conduct sensory impulses or messages, spontaneous activity begins within the nerve cells that the brain interprets as pain.

Unlike pain that occurs in response to an injury, neuropathic pain occurs without any associated stimulation. At times, neuropathic pain may be associated with an exaggerated or heightened sensitivity to normal stimulation (such as a light touch or the sensation of clothing) and these sensations may be misinterpreted as pain.

Pain is unique to everyone. As such, the words used to describe neuropathic pain may vary. Frequent descriptions include pricking, tingling, burning, stabbing, or aching. The pain may be present on a constant basis, or it can wax and wane in intensity. As described, the pain is most often present without associated stimulation, but actions such as bearing weight may dramatically exacerbate or worsen the pain.

What are the causes of and risks for neuropathy and neuropathic pain?

There are multiple causes of neuropathy, ranging from diabetes mellitus (the most common cause of neuropathy in the U.S.) to exposure to toxins. Many illnesses -- not just diabetes -- may be associated with development of neuropathy, including HIV and kidney failure. Injury to a peripheral nerve can lead to neuropathy. Alcohol and tobacco can lead to neuropathy and some prescription drugs have been shown to cause neuropathy. Shingles (herpes zoster) can lead to pain in the nerve fibers which were affected by the rash. Once neuropathy has developed, pain may begin at any point. At this time, doctors aren't able to predict who will develop neuropathic pain; in fact, many people are unaware of the presence of neuropathy until pain begins.

A partial list of factors which can cause peripheral neuropathy:

People can decrease their risk of developing neuropathy by limiting their exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and environmental toxins, as well as maintaining good general health.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/24/2013

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