If you’re meeting with your doctor or neurologist for the first time to discuss your neuropathy-like symptoms – such as pain, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet – your mind is likely swirling with questions, concerns, what-ifs and more. Taking the time beforehand to write down a list of questions or concerns you wish to discuss can have a significant impact not only on your peace of mind – but also on your chances of receiving the best advice and care possible for your own unique circumstances.
Asking the right questions can help both you and your doctor better understand your symptoms as well as foster an environment where you can get the answers you need to make informed decisions regarding your treatment. If you’re not sure where to start or what questions to ask, try using these 10 questions. They can help get the conversation going and may spark additional questions or concerns…
1. What are the potential causes of my peripheral neuropathy?
The most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes – but it is far from the only cause. Other possible causes of nerve pain can include vitamin deficiencies, chemotherapy, trauma, surgery, etc. As treatments may vary depending on the cause of your nerve damage, determining the cause is critical to finding the right treatment plan.
2. What are the most common symptoms of neuropathy? Do my symptoms fit the bill?
Be prepared to describe all of your symptoms – even if you’re not sure that they’re related to neuropathy. Openness and communication is key to determining whether your symptoms fit the bill for neuropathy and identifying their potential cause.
3. What can I take for the pain?
For many, the pain from nerve damage can be intense – even debilitating. Ask your doctor what medications are available for the pain. Medications can range from over-the-counter pain relievers to prescription painkillers. Various other prescription medications are also used to treat neuropathy pain, including both anti-seizure and anti-depressant medications.
Though they may not completely eliminate the pain, they can take the edge off and help calm overactive nerves. Restoring the calm can help get you your life back and allow you to focus on something other than the pain.
Want to know more about common treatments for Neuropathy Pain? Check out these 7 Common Treatments for Nerve Pain >
4. What negative side effects should I worry about with prescription medications?
Many prescription medications have a long list of adverse side effects and those used to treat nerve pain are no exception. For example, anti-seizure medications – a popular treatment for neuropathy – have a long list of side effects including drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, confusion and more.
Knowing the potential risks up front can help you make an informed decision about which medications to try and which to avoid. Your doctor can help explain any potential risks and help you weigh them against potential benefits.
5. What alternative treatments or therapies are there for the pain?
Prescription medications aren’t the only option available for treating neuropathic pain. There are various other treatments and therapies that can serve as complementary treatments – or, if you want to avoid prescriptions altogether, can serve as primary treatments.
Alternative treatments may include supplements, acupuncture, TENs therapy, nerve blocks, physical therapy and more. More often than not, your doctor will recommend a multi-pronged approach to repairing nerve damage and easing nerve pain. This may include medications as well as some of the options mentioned above. Asking your doctor about all possible options available to you is a great way to show your interest in trying anything – conventional or not.
6. Should I be tested for a vitamin deficiency?
One of the potential causes of peripheral neuropathy is a deficiency of vitamin B12. This important vitamin helps build and maintain a protective coating around the nerves known as the myelin sheath. Additionally, vitamin B12 helps boost and repair damaged nerves. A deficiency in this important vitamin has been linked to nerve damage and peripheral neuropathy.
If there are no obvious causes of your symptoms (i.e. diabetes, chemotherapy, recent surgeries, etc) ask your doctor about whether or not he/she believes a vitamin deficiency could be contributing to the problem. If they deem it necessary, they can run a simple test to determine whether a deficiency of vitamin B12 is playing a role in your peripheral neuropathy or not.
7. What can I do about the tingling, numbness or burning?
For most suffering from neuropathy, the nerve damage first manifests itself in the feet – often in the form of burning, tingling or numbness. As mentioned previously, both prescription and over-the-counter medications can help counteract some of these symptoms. In addition to oral pain relievers, there are topical creams formulated to help bring relief from the symptoms of neuropathy.
Neuropathy creams contain capsaicin, a component found in chili peppers. The capsaicin acts as an analgesic to help relieve pain and irritation. It is commonly used to bring temporary relief to those suffering from peripheral neuropathy.
8. What, if any, lifestyle changes should I make?
There is an old Chinese proverb that states, “He who takes medicine and neglects to diet wastes the skill of his doctors.” We would take it a step further and say that he who neglects making certain lifestyle changes (including, but not limited to diet) wastes the skills of his doctors.
For those afflicted with nerve pain, making lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on their symptoms and improve their chances of finding relief. These lifestyle changes might include quitting smoking, limiting or eliminating alcohol consumption, changing your diet or making low impact exercises part of their daily routine. The changes will largely depend on your lifestyle, as well as the cause of your neuropathy. Ask your doctor what changes you need to make and then create a plan to do it.
9. Are there any local support groups or networks for people with Neuropathy?
There may be a neuropathy support group in your area. These groups can be a valuable resource and help you learn from others who have walked in your shoes. You can gain first hand insight from others on different treatments, lifestyle changes and anything else related to living with neuropathy. Having the ability to talk to others experiencing the same difficulties as you are lets you know you’re not alone and can provide a valuable boost to your morale. To find a support group near you, search here.
If there aren’t any support groups in your local area, connect with a support group online. You can reap the same benefits from online support groups as local groups. Here are a few online support groups to get you going:
10. Is there anything I need to be more cautious about?
Since neuropathy often causes numbness, it is important that you take extra care of the afflicted areas. Avoid exposure to extreme cold or heat and be sure to check the area daily for any signs of concern.
If your symptoms are manifest in the feet, it is especially important that you check your feet daily for damage. Check for blisters or infections or other signs of problems. Wash your feet daily with warm water and be sure to dry them thoroughly. Make sure your shoes and socks fit comfortably and aren’t causing any rubbing or irritation on the feet – as this may go unnoticed with numbness.
Ask your doctor what other special precautions you should take. The last thing you want is to cause more problems when some simple preventative measures can protect you from them.
Remember – when you’re visiting your doctor or neurologist about your peripheral neuropathy – it should be a conversation. While they are experts and know what to do – going to your appointment prepared with your own questions can foster productive conversations that can help them gain greater insight into your problems and help you get the answers to the questions or concerns you have.
Use these ten questions as a starting point and add other questions to this list. Between each appointment, keep a running list of questions or concerns. Before you know it, you’ll possess a wealth of knowledge and information that will help you make informed decisions when coping with your neuropathy.