Treating Neuropathy: Why Medications Are a Pain, and Some Alternatives for Relief
Patricia Braden liked hiking for hours in the woods and walking her Corgi-mix dog near her home in Greensboro, NC. The retired clinical psychologist also enjoyed long conversations with friends, family, and her clients.
But those days are over because of peripheral neuropathy and the side effects — such as problems with balance and concentration — of drugs used to treat it.
She is not alone. An estimated 20 million people in the US have some form of peripheral neuropathy, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders. The condition results from damage to the peripheral nervous system, the nerves running from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.
Symptoms are numbness and a prickling or tingling sensation in your feet or hands, which can spread to the legs and arms. Other signs include sharp, throbbing, freezing or burning pain, extreme sensitivity to touch, and a lack of coordination that can lead to falls.
Drugs Used to Treat Neuropathy
The drugs to treat neuropathy fall into 2 classifications: antidepressants and anti-seizure medications, though it is not totally clear why they work for nerve pain. Many patients also experience a host of sometimes debilitating side effects from the drugs. The good news is that there are several alternative treatments and therapies that many patients have used to find relief that can minimize the use of medications.
David Cornblath, MD, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and a specialist in peripheral neuropathy, said the 3 main drugs approved for treating diabetic neuropathy — the most common type of neuropathy — “all have positives and negatives.”