Neuropathy describes any diseased condition of the nerves. Peripheral neuropathy specifically covers damage to nerves that lie outside of the brain and spinal cord, such as those in the extremities. These are called the peripheral nerves.
Peripheral neuropathy leads to symptoms such as weakness, numbness or tingling, and pain, most often in the hands and feet. It also interferes with the nerves’ ability to collect and send sensory information to the brain for processing.
At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, serving patients in the Monroe Township area of New Jersey, podiatric physician and surgeon Dr. Elliott Perel and our team understand that neuropathy in the legs and feet can be debilitating. It can also increase your risk for falling and for sustaining foot injuries.
What many people don’t know is that one of the most insidious but least known causes of peripheral neuropathy is alcohol abuse. Here’s what you need to know about the link between the two.
How alcohol abuse leads to peripheral neuropathy
According to the World Health Organization, 5.1% of worldwide cases of disease and injury, including peripheral neuropathy, are related to alcohol consumption, and particularly its abuse.
Excessive alcohol use can not only damage nerves by itself, but it can also lead to malnutrition; both contribute to the development of alcoholic neuropathy.
Alcohol interferes with the transportation, processing, and absorption of essential nutrients. In addition, some people with alcohol use disorder don’t eat enough, or enough nutritious food. This leads to deficiencies in:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamins B6 and B12
All of these are important for overall nerve health and function, so deficiencies in these areas can prevent nerves from functioning correctly.
Signs that you’ve developed alcoholic neuropathy in the legs and feet include:
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle atrophy and resulting loss of movement
- Numbness and loss of sensation
- Tingling or prickling feeling
- Pins and needles
Symptoms may also appear in the gastrointestinal tract (e.g., nausea, vomiting, bloating), bowels (e.g., constipation, diarrhea), and urinary system (e.g., retention), and both men and women can experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction.
Treating alcoholic neuropathy
The first, best thing you can do for your nerves, whether you’ve developed neuropathy or not, is to stop drinking, or at least seriously cut back on the amount you consume. If your alcohol use disorder is severe, though, you may first need to go through an inpatient detox followed by outpatient rehab to get your drinking under control.
You can also get community-based support from organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Self-Management and Recovery Training.
Once you’ve stopped drinking, Dr. Perel can begin to address your neuropathy, personalizing a treatment plan based on your symptoms and the severity of your condition. He always starts with conservative options, reserving more invasive procedures for cases that are treatment-resistant. He may suggest:
- Nutritional supplements to build vitamin levels
- Prescription medications for neuropathy symptoms
- Noninvasive MLS (multiwave locked system) laser treatment to reduce inflammation
If these aren’t effective, Dr. Perel may offer regenerative medicine procedures, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell injections. These treatments take advantage of your body’s own healing mechanisms to help you manage symptoms and improve your ability to repair nerve and other tissue damage. For severe and/or resistant cases, we also perform a number of surgical procedures.
If you are or have been a heavy drinker and are now experiencing the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy, it’s time to come into Monroe Foot & Ankle Care for an evaluation and treatment. Give our office a call at 732-521-6166, or book your appointment online with us today.