Sometimes there’s a medical connection between unlikely things — one example is the discovery that some people become severely, sickeningly allergic to red meat after being bitten by a tick. This problem, known as alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), is thought to affect approximately 500,000 Americans.
Another connection occurs with neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that’s associated with multiple conditions and causes unpleasant and even life-altering symptoms, including burning, tingling, and pain. Those who live with neuropathy can also have no feeling at all in the affected part of their body.
The expert provider team at Houston Neurological Institute has valuable experience with treating neuropathy that stems from many conditions. To create a customized and successful treatment plan, however, they must be well-versed in the many causes of neuropathy, including one that may surprise you. For the last 26 years, the practice has been helping free patients from many painful neurological conditions.
Why does neuropathy develop?
First, it’s important to understand that neuropathy is an umbrella term for a group of disorders that impact your peripheral nervous system, the part outside of the brain and spinal cord. It’s thought that over 20 million people in the United States are affected by neuropathy. Three common presentations include:
- Peripheral neuropathy: tingling and numbness that affects people living with diabetes
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: hand and wrist pain, numbness, and weakness
- Postherpetic neuralgia: pain that develops after having shingles
There are a plethora of other conditions that cause different types of nerve damage.
One of the most common types of neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy related to diabetes. If you live with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy can cause you to become unable to feel temperature changes and pain in your feet, legs, arms, or hands, putting you at risk for wounds and infections that can quickly become life-threatening.
Other causes of neuropathy include autoimmune diseases like lupus, viral infections like shingles, bacterial infections such as Lyme disease, chemotherapy, and more. However, neuropathy can also be idiopathic, meaning that the root cause isn’t known.
An unexpected cause of neuropathy
One cause of peripheral neuropathy that can throw people for a loop is a vitamin deficiency — often of B vitamins.
For example, vitamin B12 is naturally found exclusively in animal products like red meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs. People who are most at risk for developing peripheral neuropathy related to not getting sufficient vitamin B12, or being unable to absorb it properly, include vegetarians and vegans, people taking stomach acid reduction drugs (since acids aid B12 absorption), and those whose bodies don’t produce a protein that enables the body to absorb B12 (pernicious anemia).
When an individual doesn’t get adequate amounts of vitamin B12, the myelin sheath, or protective covering that envelops the nerves, sustains damage. This leaves the nerves vulnerable to debilitating symptoms like pain, numbness, and “pins and needles” sensations.
Deficiencies in vitamins B1 (thiamin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B6 (pyridoxine) are also linked to neuropathy, as is a deficiency in a type of vitamin E called alpha-tocopherol.
Alcohol misuse can cause a thiamin deficiency and lead to neuropathy as well.
It’s critical to seek treatment for neuropathy that’s caused by a vitamin deficiency because, without it, symptoms can lead to other problems like malnourishment and lower your quality of life substantially.
Diagnosing and treating neuropathy associated with vitamin deficiency
Fortunately, patients with neuropathy who come to Houston Neurological Institute are in the best hands. Your provider performs some or all of the following assessments:
- An in-depth discussion with you about your symptom history and severity
- A thorough physical evaluation
- Electromyography with nerve conduction velocity studies
- A neck or back MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- Blood tests
After your provider arrives at a definitive diagnosis of neuropathy caused by a vitamin deficiency, treatment may consist of a combination of:
- Dietary changes
- Vitamin supplements
- Physical therapy
- Steroid or BotoxⓇ injections
- Topical creams with capsaicin, a chili pepper extract that’s used homeopathically
- Surgical solutions
Your Houston Neurological Institute provider always seeks to prescribe the most appropriate combination of treatments to relieve your neuropathy pain and discomfort.
Call our Pasadena or Pearland office to schedule an appointment if you’re experiencing uncomfortable neuropathy symptoms, or book an appointment online.