ALCOHOLIC NEUROPATHY: A Consequence of alcoholism

MEANING OF ALCOHOLIC NEUROPATHY

Alcoholic neuropathy is a condition characterized by damage to the peripheral nerves due to excessive alcohol intake.

Alcohol can exert a poisonous effect on nerve tissue. Those who consume excess amounts of alcohol may begin to feel pain and tingling sensation in their limbs.

The peripheral nerves are responsible for signal transmissions between the body and the central nervous system. Some vitamins such as E, B6, B12, thiamine, folate, and niacin are essential for adequate nerve functioning. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can affect the levels of these vitamins and consequently affect the spread of alcoholic neuropathy. The good thing is that if one abstains from alcohol, his or her nutritional health can be revived. This will cause an improvement in symptoms and stop further damage to the nerves. In some cases, alcohol-induced nerve damage can be permanent.

Alcoholic neuropathy
Photo Credit: Medical News Today

SYMPTOMS OF ALCOHOL-INDUCED NEUROPATHY

Alcoholic neuropathy has effects on both movement and sensation. Symptoms span from mild discomfort to severe disability. Even though it is not a fatal condition, it can decrease one’s life quality. The following body areas are affected in alcoholic neuropathy:

UPPER AND LOWER LIMBS

  • Numbness
  • Tingling or burning sensation
  • Prickly sensation
  • Muscle wasting and weakness
  • Muscle contractions
  • Movement abnormalities

URINARY AND BOWEL

  • Incontinence
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty initiating urination
  • A feeling of incomplete bladder emptying

OTHERS

  • Sexual function impairment
  • Impotence
  • Impaired speech
  • Problems with swallowing
  • Heat intolerance mainly after exercising
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Speak to a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. Full recovery is best achieved if the diagnosis was made early enough and treatment was commenced.

CAUSES OF ALCOHOLIC NEUROPATHY

The peripheral nerves play an important role in sensory and motor functions of the body such as:

  • Elimination of waste products
  • Walking
  • Sexual libido
  • Limb movements
  • speech

Alcoholic neuropathy occurs when these nerves are damaged and this damage may be a direct consequence of consuming too much alcohol. Vitamin deficiency, a nutritional problem caused by alcohol use can also cause nerve damage.

MAKING A DIAGNOSIS OF ALCOHOL-INDUCED NEUROPATHY

For a diagnosis of this condition to be made, an examination by a doctor must be done. Do well to inform your doctor during history taking about your alcohol usage. The doctor will also exclude other likely causes of the symptoms you are experiencing.

Tests that can be done to identify likely causes of alcoholic neuropathy include:

  • nerve biopsy
  • neurological examination
  • nerve conduction tests
  • electromyography
  • upper GI and small bowel series
  • esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
  • kidney, thyroid and liver function tests
  • full blood count

Blood tests can be done to check nutrient deficiencies, particularly those nutrients related to both health and alcohol use. These nutrients include:

  • niacin
  • thiamine
  • folate
  • vitamins B12 and B6
  • biotin and pantothenic acid
  • vitamins E and A

TREATMENT OF ALCOHOLIC NEUROPATHY

The very first thing to be done is to stop every intake of alcohol. Treatment will firstly be directed at problems with alcohol usage. Some people may need to be admitted into a rehabilitation facility while others would be able to stop drinking on an out-patient basis or social support groups.

After addressing alcohol use, the doctor concentrates on the neuropathy itself. It is important to effectively manage the symptoms. Nerve damage can interfere with your daily functioning and will make you more susceptible to developing injuries.

People have different needs and what works for one person may not work for another. Generally, treatment of neuropathy will include one or more of the following:

  • vitamin supplementation to improve nerve health (vitamins B6, B12, E, A, folate, niacin, thiamine)
  • prescription-only pain relievers (tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsants)
  • drugs to combat urinating problems
  • physiotherapy for those with muscle wasting
  • orthopedic devices to stabilize the limbs
  • safety gear such as stabilizing footwear, to help prevent injuries
  • customized leg stockings that prevent dizziness

OUTLOOK

Nerve damage that arises from this condition is usually irreversible. The symptoms will likely worsen if drinking continues. This may result in disability, long-term pain, and damage to the arms and legs. If diagnosed early enough, the damage from alcoholic neuropathy can be limited. Stopping all form of alcohol intake and nutritional supplementation via diet can lead to a moderate or complete recovery.

PREVENTION OF ALCOHOLIC NEUROPATHY

This condition can be prevented by:

  • stopping consumption of large amounts of alcohol
  • stopping all forms of alcohol consumption when the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy are present
  • seeking help if you seem unable to stop taking alcohol
  • eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • in the case of vitamin deficiencies, take vitamin supplements under a doctor’s guidance

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