Understanding Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, is usually described as a stinging, burning or shooting pain, sometimes radiating from one part of the body to another. This pain comes from the nerves transmitting pain signals from the body to the brain. When the nervous system is not functioning properly or has been damaged, by disease or other methods, this is when neuropathic pain can appear. Neuropathic pain can be accompanied by tingling and numbness.
What Does Neuropathic Pain Feel Like?
Neuropathic pain may be evoked pain, which is brought on by stimuli that would normally not cause pain, called allodynia. It can also refer to the increase of pain by a stimulus that is normally painful, like heat or a pinprick, called hyperalgesia.
Spontaneous pain is the kind of pain felt without any stimulation, and can take many forms:
- Stabbing pain
- Shooting pain
- Electric shock-like
- Pins and needles
What Causes Neuropathic Pain?
Approximately thirty percent of nerve pain is a result of diabetes, though it can have other root causes as well. Treatments vary, but can include physical therapy, surgery, psychological counseling and medicines. Some of the disease-based causes of neuropathic pain include:
- HIV or AIDS
- Problems with facial nerves
- Disorders of the central nervous system like Parkinson’s disease, MS, stroke, etc
- CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)
There are other causes as well that are not rooted in disease. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy drugs like vincristine, cisplatin, paclitaxel, and others
- Inflammation or compression of the spinal nerve
- Amputation, which may cause phantom pain
- Nerve damage that results from a surgery or trauma
How Will My Neuropathic Pain Be Diagnosed?
As with any pain, you should consult with your doctor. They will perform a physical exam, ask you questions and take a thorough medical history to get a better idea of what you’re going through. They will analyze your symptoms to try and discern the cause of the neuropathic pain to develop a regimen of treatment.
How Can I Treat My Neuropathic Pain?
The key to treating neuropathic pain is to treat the underlying disease or condition as well as to provide relief from the pain you are feeling. Your healthcare provider will also concentrate on improving your quality of life and helping you maintain your current functionality. They may do this through medicines, psychological counseling, surgery or physical therapy.
Should medication be the best route to take, your doctor will look at multiple options to decide the right medication to treat your neuropathic pain. These can include anti-seizure medications or antidepressants, which have proven to be effective against such pain, whether you suffer from seizures or depression or not.
- Gabapentin (Neurontin®) (anti-seizure drug)
- Amitriptyline (Elavil®) (antidepressant)
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal®) (anti-seizure drug)
- Pregabalin (Lyrica®) (anti-seizure drug)
- Nortriptyline (Pamelor®) (antidepressant)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor®) (antidepressant)
- Carbamazepine (Tegretol®) (anti-seizure drug)
- Topiramate (Topamax®) (anti-seizure drug)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta®) (antidepressant)
Your doctor may also choose nerve blocks (an injection), topical treatments and, in cases where other therapies have not worked, stimulation of the peripheral nerve, spinal cord and brain. Fortunately, neuropathic pain is not usually life threatening, and working with your doctor to concentrate on your mental and emotional wellbeing will also help.