Neuropathy is not life threatening, but it can lead to disability, chronic pain, an increased risk of injury, and negatively impact the overall quality of life. The best prevention and treatment for the disease is to stop drinking alcohol.
What is Alcoholic Neuropathy?
Alcoholic neuropathy is a disease of the nerves caused by heavy drinking. Drinking damages the peripheral nerves, which transmit the signals between the body, spinal cord and the brain. Because it affects the nervous system, it has the potential to harm many different areas in the body, including the brain, muscles, feet, hands, gastrointestinal system, and reproductive system.
The exact cause is unknown, but experts believe it develops due to a combination of alcohol poisoning the nerves and poor nutrition associated with alcoholism. Most likely, a deficiency of vitamins necessary for healthy nerves, especially vitamin B1 (thiamine) and the other B vitamins (including folate, niacin, B6 and B12), and vitamin E, play a significant role in alcoholic neuropathy.
The Impact on the Body
Neuropathy impacts the peripheral nerves in the body, which play an essential role in many bodily functions and movements, including sensory and motor functions. Neuropathy can cause problems with arm and leg movement, including making walking difficult. The damage to the nerves can also cause pain or tingling, or it can lead to a person not being able to feel, increasing the risk of injury. It can also cause problems with speech and swallowing. Additionally, neuropathy can cause problems in the bladder, including difficulty eliminating, or affect the gastrointestinal system, causing constipation or nausea. It can also cause problems with sexual arousal.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy
Alcoholic neuropathy can harm any nerves in the body, so there are a variety of symptoms. Some of the most common include:
- Numbness in the extremities, especially the arms and legs
- Feeling pins and needles, pain, or other abnormal sensation
- Weakness of the muscles
- Cramps or muscle aches
- Heat intolerance
- Difficulties with urinating, including incompetence or feeling as though the bladder does not empty
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
Some people may also feel other symptoms, including difficulty swallowing, muscle spasms, impaired speech, atrophy of the muscles, or problems with movements. Muscular problems are more common in the legs than the arms, and they will occur equally on both sides of the body. The symptoms will begin gradually, and then grow more severe over time. It is important to seek help at the first sign of symptoms to reduce the severity of the condition.
Can it Be Cured?
Unfortunately, the damage to the nerves caused by alcohol is permanent. However, ceasing to consume alcohol and restoring essential nutrients can improve some symptoms, and prevent further problems. Therefore, the earlier neuropathy is treated, the better prognosis a person will have.
The primary focus of any treatment is the alcohol problem, so a person will need to go through detox and a rehabilitation program before any other treatment commences. The overall goals for neuropathy treatment is to control the symptoms, maximize a person's ability to function, and prevent any injury. A person often undergoes physical therapy and might also use orthopedic appliances or safety gear, including stabilizing footwear. If a person's neuropathy causes problems with the bladder or bowels, they might be prescribed medication.
Nutrition is another important treatment component, especially taking supplements that include thiamine and folic acid. If people feel pain, they might be given medicine to control pain, but this will be minimal to prevent abuse of the substance.