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SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
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Peripheral Neuropathy, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the nerves and nerve networks that extend outside the central nervous system, known as the peripheral nervous system. While the damage may affect the neuromuscular junction or the nerve itself, the causes are quite varied and can result from diseases of the nerve or from side-effects of systemic illnesses.
Peripheral neuropathy may be caused by inflammatory diseases such as leprosy, metabolic or endocrine disorders such as diabetes mellitus or even toxins, such as heavy metals and excessive alcohol intake. Peripheral neuropathy is also known to be caused by certain other diseases such as Friedreich’s ataxia, HIV and by other means, such as chemo or radiation. Vitamin deficiencies are also a culpurit, such as deficiencies in vitamins B12, A, E and thiamin. It can also be caused by trauma or pressure on the nerve due to unnatural or repeated movements. Peripheral neuropathy is most commonly caused by diabetes mellitus.
There are several types of peripheral neuropathies: focal, multifocal, symmetrical and generalized. Generalized peripheral neuropathy is further broken down into categories, including distal axonopathies, myelinopathies and neuropathies. The type of peripheral neuropathy can usually point the way to what caused the damage.
When a patient has diseases of the peripheral nerves they may experience gait imbalance, tremor or numbness, as well as sensory symptoms such as crawling, itching, pins and needles, pain and tingling. Motor symptoms can include heaviness, weakness, tiredness and cramps , muscle pain and twitching due to muscle contractions. Most often these sensory issues are located in the hands and feet.
In some patients, the skin can become so sensitive that they cannot handle anything touching it, from clothing to bed sheets. When this happens, many are debilitated by the sensitivity and cannot leave their homes. In addition, the pain can become so unbearable that many take opiate drugs such as oxycodone or morphine to control it.
Treatment for peripheral neuropathy usually consists of symptomatic treatments. Health changes such as exercise, healthy eating habits, avoiding toxins, quitting smoking and getting enough vitamins can have a positive effect on nerve regeneration. Anti-depressants and pain relievers are also used for treatment.
In 2005 an anticonvulsant drug called Pregabalin, commonly used for fibromyalgia, was approved by the FDA and in 2007 it was approved as a neuropathic pain reliever.
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