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Patient education: Neuropathic pain (The Basics)

Patient education: Neuropathic pain (The Basics)

What is neuropathic pain? — Neuropathic pain is a type of pain caused by nerve damage or a problem with the nervous system. Neuropathic pain is usually burning, tingling, sharp, or stabbing. People can have the pain all the time, or the pain can come and go. Neuropathic pain is usually worse at rest and at night. Sometimes, people feel a lot of pain when they are touched gently.

Neuropathic pain can be severe and affect daily life. For instance, neuropathic pain can keep people from sleeping or eating well. This can lead to depression and anxiety.

In some cases, neuropathic pain goes away on its own. But in other cases, it can last months or years.

What causes neuropathic pain? — Different conditions can cause neuropathic pain, including:

Diabetic neuropathy – This is a form of nerve damage that can happen in people with diabetes.

Postherpetic neuralgia – This is a condition that can happen after people have a painful rash called "shingles."

Stroke – A stroke is when a part of the brain is damaged because of a problem with blood flow. People can have neuropathic pain after a stroke.

But sometimes, doctors can't figure out what's causing a person's neuropathic pain.

Will I need tests? — Maybe. Your doctor or nurse will ask about your symptoms and do an exam. They might do:

Blood tests

Nerve tests to check whether your nerves are working normally

How is neuropathic pain treated? — Treatments for neuropathic pain include both medicines and activities. No single treatment works for everyone. Your doctor or nurse will help you find the right mix of treatments for you.

Several different types of medicines can be used to treat neuropathic pain. The medicines used most often are ones that are also used to treat other conditions. Doctors treat neuropathic pain with medicines for depression, because they work on areas of the brain that process pain. Doctors also treat neuropathic pain with medicines that prevent seizures, because they help with overactive nerves.

Other medicines doctors sometimes use to treat neuropathic pain include:

Pain-relieving or numbing medicines that go on the skin as a cream, patch, or spray

Injections (shots) of numbing or pain-relieving medicines that go into the spine or the area with pain

Prescription pain medicines called opioids are sometimes used for neuropathic pain. However, these medicines can lead to problems with misuse or addiction in some people.

Other kinds of treatments can also help with neuropathic pain. Some of these include:

Physical therapy

Working with a counselor

Relaxation therapy

Massage therapy

Acupuncture

Devices that affect nerve signals

To find the best treatment for you, you should be open to trying new treatments or combinations of treatments. Sometimes, people have to try a few different things before they find the one that works best.

Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. You can:

Use a heating pad or cold pack on the painful area. Check with your doctor before trying this to make sure it is OK for your individual condition.

Learn ways to relax your mind and body, such as doing deep breathing exercises. Relaxing your mind can help with how the body feels pain.

Stay as active as possible. If you haven't been active for a while, talk to your doctor or nurse first. Then start slowly and increase your activity slowly.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel depressed. Neuropathic pain and depression often go together, and each can make the other worse. Getting treatment for your depression can help you cope more easily with your pain.

More on this topic

Patient education: Chronic pain (The Basics)
Patient education: Nerve damage caused by diabetes (The Basics)
Patient education: Shingles (The Basics)
Patient education: Stroke (The Basics)
Patient education: Coping with high drug prices (The Basics)
Patient education: Complementary and alternative medicine (The Basics)
Patient education: Depression (The Basics)

Patient education: Diabetic neuropathy (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Shingles (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Depression in adults (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
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