Chronic alcoholism leads to a variety of serious mental and physical problems. These conditions are not only caused by the amount of alcohol consumed but are also due to the poor diet of most alcoholics. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that can severely interfere with the ability of an individual to live a normal life. It is sometimes possible to recover from peripheral neuropathy, but in many cases the best that can be done is to control the symptoms. It is suspected that as many as 50% of chronic alcoholics will develop some form of peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy occurs because of damage to nerves within the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system is protected by bone, but this is not the case with the peripheral nervous system. This means that the PNS is more susceptible to damage due to direct injuries or toxins. The body relies on the PNS for coordinating body movements and picking up external signals. It provides a vital function, and so any damage to the PNS can have serious repercussions.
There are as many as 100 different conditions that lead to peripheral neuropathy. As well as alcoholism, the other possible causes include:
* Physical injury
* Nutrition deficiencies
* Autoimmune diseases
In all cases of peripheral neuropathy, it will be due to some type of damage to the nerves in the PNS. The extent of the damage will be determined by whatever is causing it.
The possible symptoms caused by peripheral neuropathy vary greatly. Some individuals will only experience minor discomfort, while for other people the symptoms will be highly debilitating. The type of symptoms experienced will always depends on the extent and location of the damage. The individual may experience:
* Tingling sensations
* Muscle weakness
* Sensitivity to touch
* Pricking sensation
* Sexual difficulties
* Organ dysfunction
* Digestive problems
* Burning pain
* Muscle wasting
The progression of peripheral neuropathy can occur slowly with periods of relief and relapse. Symptoms tend to first become noticeable in the lower extremities. If the cause of the condition is not treated, it will usually mean that symptoms intensify over time. If allowed to progress, the damage becomes so severe that it eventually leads to death.
It is not alcohol alone that causes peripheral neuropathy, but the fact that most alcoholics will tend to eat poorly. This leads to poor nutrition which is the major cause of damage to the PNS. In particular, it is lack of vitamins B1, B3, B6, B12 and Vitamin E that is the problem. These chemicals are vital for a healthy nervous system, but a poor diet will lead to their deficiency. There is still debate about the extent by which excessive alcohol abuse itself causes damage to the PNS; but there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate the link with nutrition. Their poor diet also puts the heavy drinker at risk of other serious conditions such as alcoholic liver disease.
The most important step in treating alcohol induced peripheral neuropathy is that the individual stops drinking. Once the cause is removed, this should ensure no further deterioration. Treatment options will depend on the type of symptoms that the individual is experiencing. Different pharmacological agents have been found to be successful with dealing with the discomfort associated with peripheral neuropathy. Antidepressants and antiepileptic drugs seem to help some individuals cope better with the pain. TENS is a machine that uses an electrical charge to help reduce discomfort associated with this condition.
The best way to avoid this type of peripheral neuropathy is to refrain from overindulgence in alcohol. Those heavy drinkers who are not willing to reduce their alcohol intake may be able to avoid the condition by ensuring that they always maintain good nutrition. Of course, there is still the possibility that simply consuming too much alcohol can cause damage to the PNS. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as any symptoms become noticeable. This will make it more likely that a good recovery can be achieved.
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