Nerves carry messages from the brain to various parts of the body. Any damage to nerves, which affects their ability to carry out this function, is known as neuropathy in medical terms. Peripheral neuropathy denotes damage to nerve endings in our extremities. Neuropathy in feet and legs is included in this condition. It may begin with a tingling or burning sensation which depends on the nerves that have been damaged, and it may eventually lead to inability to feel one's legs.
Neuropathy is one of the complications of diabetes which arises due to the fact that sores and wounds take longer to heal in this condition. Hence, any wound in the feet increases the risk of the infection reaching the nerve endings and causing neuropathy.
Chemotherapy and drugs containing strong chemicals may also cause damage to the nerves in the feet. It is not just those in the foot, but nerves present in other parts of the body too, that can be impaired in cancer patients due to the treatment that they undergo.
Alcoholism deprives the body of vitamins that are necessary for proper functioning of the nerves. In the absence of these nutrients, the nerves may be damaged, and an individual may suffer from neuropathy and display symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
Some people develop neuropathy even in the absence of any of the conditions mentioned so far. Such people usually have other members of their family suffering from the same condition. In such a case, feet neuropathy arises due to hereditary reasons.
Other than these conditions, trauma, deficiency of vitamins, especially that of vitamin B12, kidney failure, and Guillain-Barré syndrome can also cause feet neuropathy.
Symptoms depend upon the type of peripheral nerve that has been damaged. There are sensory nerves and motor nerves in our feet. If sensory nerves are damaged, then symptoms are all sensory. For example, a tingling, burning sensation or numbness is most commonly felt in such cases of neuropathy. The tingling sensation or the feeling of numbness usually starts from the toes or balls of the feet, and spreads slowly up the entire limb.
Another typical symptom is the glove and stocking symptom, in which a patient feels that he is wearing gloves or stockings when his hands and legs respectively are actually bare. In certain cases, the skin may become very sensitive. As a result, even the slightest touch may causes excruciating pain. Some patients feel sharp, stabbing pain. These symptoms are also erratic. At times, a patient feels that he doesn't have any symptoms at all. However, in certain occasions, specially at night, the symptoms may surface, causing immense discomfort.
If motor nerves are damaged, then one feels weakness in the muscles of the affected limb. In severe cases, muscles may also suffer from paralysis. In such a case, it may lead to 'wasting' of the muscles, as they can't be used effectively. Loss of the ability to feel one's feet impairs one's sense of position. As a result of this, an individual feels uncoordinated as he is unsure of where he is putting his feet in cases of peripheral neuropathy.
Loss of sensation in the feet due to diabetes may cause one to hurt his feet without him realizing it. As wounds take longer to heal in diabetes, this may lead to severe complications. Another point worth considering in case of diabetes is that along with motor and sensory nerves, autonomic nerves are also damaged. In that case, there is drop in blood pressure, feeling of dizziness when standing up and intestinal problems.
As of now, there is no cure for neuropathy. But certain measures can be taken to help patients depending upon the cause and symptoms of the condition. For example, if damage is caused due to diabetes then the best way to treat symptoms of neuropathy in legs and feet is to control the disease. Pain killers, antidepressants, and drugs used to treat seizures are also prescribed to treat symptoms of neuropathy. Research has shown that neurotrophin-3 reduces loss of myelin that is the cause of neuropathy.
However, the best approach is to prevent further damage to nerves. This can be done by not smoking and eliminating any other source that might drain our body of oxygen. Levels of oxygen and sugar in blood should be monitored through regular blood tests. It is important to keep one's feet clean and wear shoes that fit one properly. One must also check his feet regularly for cuts and injuries, as loss of sensation may make one unaware of any wounds on feet.
Symptoms of neuropathy in feet are not exclusive pointers to any one condition. However, in case one experiences the symptoms on a regular basis, he should not dismiss them as being trivial, as timely medical intervention can prevent further damage for this incurable condition.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.