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Understanding Your Symptoms: Is it ‘Just Part of Getting Old’ or Nerve Damage?

It is estimated that over 20 million people in the United States have neuropathy. The true
number is significantly higher because many people are unaware their symptoms correlate with
neuropathy; they think “it’s just part of getting old”, at least that’s what they tell me. Being
specialized in neuropathy, I see patients every day that are shocked they have nerve damage.
They had no idea, nor would they because many symptoms are subtle until the disease is
severe. The farther along the disease has progressed, the harder it is to treat and reverse. So,
let’s discuss early signs of nerve damage.

Signs and Symptoms:

Nerve damage often develops from lack of blood flow to an area. It is a very slow progression at
first, many people do not notice anything other than their feet are cold. Strong blood flow results
in warmer temperature. As the feet and hands are farthest from the heart, they get the weakest
blood flow. The result is often cold limbs. This does not mean you have a cardiac condition, and
your nerves may not be suffering yet. However, it is common to be the first symptom.
There are approximately 45 miles of nerves in the human adult body. As those nerves begin to
suffer, they each react differently. Motor nerve damage may result in cramping, muscle
twitching, and weakness. Autonomic nerve damage may result in light headedness,
gastrointestinal issues, and problems regulating blood pressure. However, the most common
sensations I see in my office include electric shocks, cramping in the feet or legs, pins and
needles, achiness, burning, tingling, and hypersensitivity. Despite these being the most common
symptoms, it is important to emphasize that just because you do not have any pain, does not
mean there is not a problem. There are people with neuropathy who feel no pain at all. They are
simply unable to feel as much as they used to and possibly have started having balance issues.
I believe that the most dangerous sensory symptom is numbness. For example, if your hand is
on a hot stove, and you are unable to feel the heat, your hand will stay there until you have a
significant burn and register what is happening. That is far more dangerous than tingling or
cramping. When there is a numbness sensation within your nerves, that is due to nerves dying.
The inability to feel the gas petal properly, or the ground when you walk causes you to be at
high-risk of injury when walking and driving.
As a result of numbness, the very last symptom to arise is a lack of balance. When the brain
can no longer determine where you are in space due to nerve damage, you will begin to lose
your balance. A quick way to tell is by balancing on each individual leg, near a stable support in
case you fall. Majority of healthy adults should be able to balance for more than 10 seconds.
Patients with nerve damage begin to lose that ability and may even start to see their toes curling
trying to grip the floor when they walk or stand. Balance issues should be taken seriously as
falls are the leading cause of injury related death for folks over 65 years.
Cold feet, cramping, tingling, achy feet, numbness, and lack of balance are quickly written off as
“part of getting old”. Most people accept it as normal and part of their destiny, but it does not
have to be and can be helped if you catch it in early stages. If you are suspicious of nerve
damage, consult with a doctor you trust to see what they can do for you so you can continue to live a life where your most used quote can shift from “it is part of getting old” to “age is just a

– Dr. Ken Horup DC, Neuropathy Expwert located in Hilton Head Island, SC 

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