By Frank Wilson, Published on June 6th, 2021
Function Of Our Nervous System
The human nervous system includes countless small and large nerve fibres that send information picked up by sensors to higher-level centres where these impulses are processed.
The nerves in return send the information to the places where they are supposed to trigger specific actions. Without nerves, we would not be able to react appropriately to the outside world, nor could the various parts of the organism interact.
Causes: How Does Nerve Damage Occur?
Damage to the nerves is often caused by pressure – a typical example is the loss of function in
a herniated disc or carpal tunnel syndrome; more rarely, a tumor can also squeeze a nerve.
(Metabolic) toxins can damage the nerve; they are produced, for example, by diabetes or alcoholism
or enter the body through medication or food (e.g. heavy metals).
A low vitamin content, especially folic acid, or multiple sclerosis can also affect nerve function. If several nerves are damaged, the disease is referred to as polyneuropathy or – if inflammatory processes play a role – polyneuritis.
Nerve injuries or cuts occur, for example, in traffic accidents or through cuts and are also a potential difficulty in surgical interventions.
Inflammation of nerves (neuritis) can also be caused by an infection.
For example, chickenpox viruses can survive in the body and in certain situations can cause shingles, which is associated with typical nerve pain (zoster neuralgia).
HIV infection and Lyme disease can also be accompanied by neuralgia.
What Are The Symptoms Of Nerve Damage?
The main symptoms of a neuropathy manifest themselves in those parts of the body that are supplied by the affected nerve:
Functional impairment of muscles up to paralysis, sensory disturbances, regulation disturbances of the skin and nerve pain; in addition, the reflexes can also be altered. The type, location and extent of the complaints depend above all on the affected nerves and the trigger.
Signs Of Polyneuropathy
Polyneuropathy typically begins with skin sensations (especially formication) and sensory disturbances, which are symmetrical and rather – sock-shaped – localized on the legs. Paralysis and muscle atrophy occur later.
A sciatica syndrome, on the other hand, often manifests itself mainly through nerve pain that moves into the leg, a slipped disc often shows muscle paralysis and numbness on the skin at an early stage.
What Is Typical For Neuralgia?
Nerve pain suddenly shoots in, rises and falls in waves or exists as a permanent pain. Some occur spontaneously, i.e. without any recognisable trigger, others are “triggered” by certain factors (for example: cold, touch). Nerve pain does not occur where the nerve is damaged, but in its course.
This is because the brain assigns nerve pain to the body regions where the sensors of the nerve fibres are located to register pain. If, for example, an intervertebral disc presses on the sciatic nerve at its passage through the vertebral holes, it does not hurt there (the back pain is caused by the muscle cramps), but mainly at the back of the thigh, where the pain receptors of the sciatic nerve are located. This is also how phan tom pain after amputations occurs.
How Is The Diagnosis Made?
As a result of the typical symptoms, the affected nerve is usually quickly identified. In contrast, the investigation of the cause is often more complicated and does not always lead to positive results. Depending on the result of the physical examination and the suspected trigger, further tests such as blood tests, computer or magnetic resonance imaging, examinations of the function of muscles and nerves, electrophysiological diagnostics or X-ray examinations of the vessels follow.
What Therapy Is Possible?
The treatment methods are as many as the triggers – that is why only a rough overview can be given here. Wherever possible, the cause is dealt with; in addition, attempts are made to reduce the symptoms.
In some cases, surgical intervention must also be considered. Medicines are mainly used to treat acute or chronic pain – in addition to the usual weak to strong painkillers, antidepressants, antiepileptics, radical scavengers (alpha-lipoic acid) and local anaesthetics are also used. Depending on the nerve pain, therapy with electricity (TENS = transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is also successfully applied. In addition, physiotherapeutic measures, relaxation and psychotherapeutic methods are used.
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