Damage to the nerves in your feet is known specifically as peripheral neuropathy. Common symptoms of neuropathy of the foot include pain, burning, tingling, numbness, or sensations that are not normal, like feeling like you're walking on sand, without any sand being around you for example. Peripheral neuropathy symptoms often time are more intense at night than during the day. There are so many causes of peripheral neuropathy. Here are 11 causes for neuropathy of the foot.
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Diabetes affects every single organ system. The high blood sugars seen in diabetes can attack the nerves in your feet, and sometimes even your hands, which leads to the symptoms seen in peripheral neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy can lead to many changes in the feet including skin dryness, toe and foot deformities, and a condition known as Charcot Foot. Diabetic neuropathy is a massive reason why foot ulcers and amputations are seen in diabetics. To learn more about the many ways diabetes can affect your feet, click to read another one of my blog posts on this topic here.
2. Alcohol Abuse
People are usually surprised to find out that alcohol abuse or alcoholism can lead to neuropathy of the foot. Alcohol makes it harder for the body to absorb nutrients which are key for healthy nerves. These include vitamins B1, B6, B9 (folate), and B12. Deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to nerve damage and alcoholic neuropathy. Alcohol is also toxic to all cells in the body. Alcohol can change the shape of nerve cells, and how nerve cells work, and cause inflammation, which can over time lead to neuropathy of the foot.
3. Poor Nutrition
Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common causes of neuropathy due to a vitamin deficiency. Normal B12 levels are vital for healthy nerves.
Being deficient in other B vitamins, like B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine), and B9 (folate), also can cause neuropathy of the foot.
Minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium are also important for your nerves to work properly. Deficiencies in these minerals can increase your risk of developing neuropathy as well.
Certain infections can increase your risk of developing neuropathy of the foot. These include:
5. Other Diseases
Diseases that affect your entire body can also lead to neuropathy of the foot. These are:
Cardiovascular disease (CVD): CVD, including atherosclerosis and peripheral arterial disease or PAD, can lead to not enough blood reaching your nerves. When the nerves do not get enough blood flow, they can become damaged, causing neuropathy.
Uremia: Uremia is caused by the buildup of waste in the blood due to problems with the kidneys. High amounts of these toxins, can damage the nerves, leading to neuropathy.
Dysproteinemia: Dysproteinemia is caused by the wrong amounts of certain proteins in the blood, or these proteins just being made incorrectly by the body. Conditions like monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), multiple myeloma, and amyloidosis are examples of dysproteinemias that can cause neuropathy of the foot. Abnormal proteins can deposit in the nerves, affect how these nerves work, and lead to nerve damage and neuropathy.
Tumors can cause neuropathy of the foot in a couple of different ways. The growth of a tumor can push on nerves close by, which can lead to nerve damage. Tumors can also invade or grow directly into nerves, causing damage to the nerves, and then peripheral neuropathy. Other types of tumors come from the cells actually surrounding the nerves themselves. These tumors can also eventually wrap around, or grow into the nerves, causing nerve damage and neuropathy of the foot. In some cases, tumors may make chemicals or substances that are toxic to nerves. This can lead to nerve damage and then peripheral neuropathy. In other cases, the immune response triggered by the tumor just being present in the body can cause inflammation, and chronic inflammation can lead to nerve damage and eventually peripheral neuropathy.
7. Toxins & Medications
Industrial chemicals, heavy metals, medications, and environmental toxins can increase your risk of developing neuropathy of the foot. For example, chemotherapy, though life-saving, has neurotoxic effects and can lead to neuropathy as a side effect of treatment.
Heavy metals like lead, mercury, and arsenic, are also known neurotoxins. Industrial chemicals like solvents, pesticides, and certain cleaning agents, have also been linked to nerve damage and neuropathy of the foot.
8. Guillan Barre Syndrome
Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a rare neurological disorder that causes inflammation of the nerves, which can then neuropathy of the foot. GBS is triggered by an infection, and unfortunately, in response to this, the body attacks its own nerves.
It is important to say that while GBS can cause neuropathy, it is very different from other types of peripheral neuropathy because the neuropathy from GBS happens quickly and can get worse quickly as well, within a number of days to weeks. In some people with GBS, muscle weakness or paralysis can happen, leading to problems walking.
Neuropathy of the foot can be genetic as well. The most common example of this is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT).
Even though genetic or hereditary neuropathies usually don't have a cure, symptoms of neuropathy of the foot for this cause can be managed, improving quality of life, and preventing complications. Treatment may involve physical therapy, occupational therapy, assistive devices, pain management, and regular monitoring of possible complications for neuropathy of the foot including chronic wounds or foot ulcer problems.
10. Amyloidosis Amyloidosis is a rare group of diseases that's caused by the build-up of a special kind of protein, called amyloid protein all throughout the body, which can lead to neuropathy of the foot. These proteins damage tissues, including nerve tissue.
Porphyria is a group of rare disorders that are caused by hemoglobin, an important protein in your blood, from being made incorrectly. Certain types of porphyria can lead to neuropathy of the foot.
The exact reason why porphyria causes nerve damage is not completely understood, but it is believed that direct toxic effects on nerve cells play a role.
Management and treatment of neuropathy of the foot can be very complex, and because of this, requires a team approach including not just the foot doctor, but neurologists, primary care doctors, endocrinologists, oncologists, infectious disease doctors, and more. If you are noticing any numbness, tingling, burning, or changes in sensation in your feet, make an appointment with your doctor, so that they can get to the source of the neuropathy in your feet.