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Dangers of Alcoholic Neuropathy: Too many drinks can damage your nerves

In a search online, I came upon this topic, oh so apt for our dear country, being the drinking society that we are. I’ve touched on neuropathy before; however, this is a specific type. This type of neuropathy can be caused by the choices made. What is it? Alcoholic neuropathy. Makes sense doesn’t it.

Alcoholic neuropathy is damage to the nerves that results from excessive drinking of alcohol. Think about how many Trinbagonians are probably already suffering from this condition, or potentially are on their way there, if they don’t take stock of their daily lifestyle. Yes… what we love to do is lime, but we can do it responsibly. There’s no need to drink excessively to enjoy yourself. Throughout the years I’ve partied and limed without any drinking or smoking occurring, so it can be done – it’s a mindset. However, drinking socially or occasionally can’t hurt anybody!

Causes

The cause of alcoholic neuropathy is still debateable; in the same vein that a smoker may not associate cancer with the nicotine they put into their systems over the years.Alcoholic neuropathy probably includes both a direct poisoning of the nerve by the alcohol, and the effect of poor nutrition associated with alcoholism. Up to 50% of all long-term heavy alcohol users develop this condition. In severe cases, the nerves that regulate internal body functions may be involved.

Signs and Symptoms to look out for

·         Painful sensations and numbness in the arms and legs                          Alcoholic Neuropathy defined

·         Abnormal sensations; “pins and needles”

·         Muscle cramps, weakness and or aches

·         Heat intolerance, especially after exercise

·         Impotence (in men)

·         Problems urinating

·         Incontinence (leaking urine)

·         Constipation or diarrhoea

·         Nausea, vomiting

Additional symptoms that may occur:

·         Swallowing difficulty

·         Speech impairment

·         Loss of muscle function or feeling

·         Muscle contractions, spasms and or atrophy

·         Movement disorders

Changes in muscle strength or sensation usually occur on both sides of the body, and are more common in the legs than in the arms. Symptoms usually develop gradually and slowly become worse over time.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms. An eye exam may show eye problems.

Alcoholism often makes your body unable to use or store certain vitamins and minerals. So blood tests will be done to check for deficiencies such as:

·         Vitamins A, B1, B3, B6 or B12

·         Folic acid

Other tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of neuropathy and may include:

·         Electrolyte levels

·         Electromyography (EMG)

·         Liver and kidney function tests

·         Thyroid function tests

·         Levels of vitamins and minerals in the body

·         Nerve conduction tests

·         Nerve biopsy

Treatment

Once the immediate alcohol problem has been addressed, treatment goals include:

·         Controlling symptoms

·         Maximising the ability to function independently

·         Preventing injury

It is important to supplement the diet with vitamins, including thiamine and folic acid. Physical therapy and orthopaedic appliances may be needed to maximise muscle function, and maintain limb position.

Patients may take medication, if necessary, to treat pain or uncomfortable sensations. The response to medications varies. Patients are advised to take the least amount of medication required to reduce symptoms, to help prevent drug dependence and other side effects of chronic use.

Some people may need to treat blood pressure problems, difficulty with urination, and slow gastrointestinal movement. Light-headedness, or dizziness when standing, may require several different treatments before you find one that successfully reduces the symptoms.

Impotence, diarrhoea, constipation, or other symptoms are treated when necessary. These symptoms often respond poorly to treatment in people with alcoholic neuropathy.

It is important to protect body parts with reduced sensation from injury. This may incorporate:

·         Checking the temperature of bath water to prevent burns

·         Changing footwear

·         Frequently inspecting the feet and shoes to reduce injury caused by pressure or objects in the shoes

·         Guarding the extremities to prevent injury from pressure

Alcohol use has to cease, to prevent the damage from getting worse. Treatment for alcoholism may include psychiatric therapy, social support such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), medications, and behaviour modification.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Damage to nerves from alcoholic neuropathy is usually permanent and may get worse if you continue to use alcohol or do not correct nutritional problems. Symptoms vary from mild discomfort to severe disability. The disorder is usually not life-threatening, but it may seriously affect your quality of life.

Possible Complications

·         Disability

·         Long-term/chronic discomfort or pain

·         Injury to extremities

Prevention

Don’t be in denial, avoid or minimise alcohol use at all costs.

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