Diagnosing neuropathy (nerve damage) isn’t simple or straight forward. While symptoms like tingling, pain, numbness, and muscle weakness may strongly suggest a nerve problem, neuropathy causes a vast array of symptoms, and has many possible causes.
Getting to the source of the problem is essential, but it may require diagnostic testing and definitely demands expert knowledge of neuropathy. The Infinity Regenerative & Neuropathy Center team specializes in neuropathy, using their expertise to diagnose the problem and create personalized treatment.
Here, they explain neuropathy’s many causes and provide the steps toward diagnosing neuropathy.
Understanding the causes of neuropathy
Neuropathy has more possible causes than you may imagine. Many people suffer nerve damage following a trauma, such as a fall, sports injury, car accident, or repetitive movement.
Exposure to certain medications, chemicals, and toxins may damage your nerves, including heavy metals like lead and mercury. Substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) also affects your nerves.
Many medical conditions result in neuropathy, such as:
- Kidney disease
- Underactive thyroid
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Peripheral artery disease (clogged arteries)
- Autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.)
- Spine conditions (herniated discs, spinal stenosis, etc.)
- Viral and bacterial infections (Lyme disease, herpes simplex, hepatitis C, HIV, etc.)
Sometimes neuropathy doesn’t have an identifiable cause (idiopathic neuropathy), but if it does, it’s important to prevent ongoing nerve damage by diagnosing and treating the underlying condition.
When diagnosing neuropathy, we begin with reviewing your medical history and completing a physical and neurological exam. You may or may not need additional diagnostic testing, depending on your symptoms and exam results.
1. Physical and neurological exam
As we review your medical history and begin your diagnosis, we ask about every aspect of your life that could contribute to neuropathy. For example, we learn about your diet, past and current medications, potential exposure to environmental toxins, traumas that may have injured your nerves, and alcohol use.
Then we do a physical and neurological exam, testing your reflexes, muscle strength, and ability to feel sensations.
2. Lab tests
We don’t have lab tests to diagnose neuropathy. However, lab tests like those in the following list can rule out other conditions and identify an underlying cause:
- Complete blood count
- HbA1c (test for diabetes)
- Thyroid function testing
- Antibody testing (for autoimmune diseases)
- Metabolic panels (reveals kidney and liver function and electrolyte imbalances)
- Micronutrient test panel (to identify nutrient deficiencies)
- Heavy metal toxicity (mercury, lead, and arsenic can cause neuropathy)
- Infectious workup (to look for Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis C, and others)
We may run one or more lab tests, depending on results from physical and neurological exams.
3. Nerve function tests
We may perform nerve function tests like electromyography (EMG) and a nerve conduction velocity (NCV) test.
The NCV test shows how well an electrical impulse moves through a nerve, identifying nerve damage and whether your symptoms are caused by degeneration in part targeted nerves.
An EMG reveals a muscle’s response to nerve stimulation. The results of an EMG help us determine if your symptoms are associated with a muscle or nerve problem.
4. Diagnostic imaging
In some cases, we may perform CT or MRI scans to identify pinched nerves or growths in the spine that can push against nerves and blood vessels. Ultrasound imaging is another diagnostic technique that identifies muscle problems.
5. Autonomic testing
You have three types of peripheral nerves that can develop neuropathy: sensory, motor, and autonomic. Sensory nerves carry messages about pain, pressure, temperature, and other senses to your brain, while motor nerves carry messages from your brain to your muscles.
Autonomic nerves control life-sustaining processes like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. Your symptoms point toward the organ system affected by autonomic neuropathy, and we recommend different tests to evaluate that system.
Call Infinity Regenerative & Neuropathy Center in Plano, Texas, or request an appointment online if you have questions about neuropathy or need an evaluation.