DRHOOK- No hard feelings: With neuropathy, no feelings at all!

the handsome doctor John Hong of Charlottesville

iTouch and iPhone have some competition now: myTouch. 

My goodness– um, not a new phone. I have an iPhone and love, love, love it. I touch the screen and voila, it does what I want! Forget actually calling someone. It offers email, the Internet, text messaging, photographs, fun and informative applications, and more. It does almost everything I want except wash my car, all by a simple touch of the screen. No one likes to have the finger pointed at him or her, so you can now point your finger at the iPhone. 

 What happens if you lose your sense of touch?

 We all know people who are out of touch: bank and broker executives, politicians, Paula Abdul. However, losing the sense of touch can be a bad thing. Neuropathy means the nerves aren't working well (or at all) to provide the sense of touch: temperature, texture, the feel of cotton. 

 But neuropathy can have different feelings than just no feeling at all. Usually, folks with neuropathy complain of a tingling feeling, the way it feels when your foot falls asleep after sitting on something too long. Some say it feels like pins and needles. Neuropathy can cause a horrible burning pain that usually gets worse at night, to keep a person up like a cat on a hot tin roof.

 If the motor nerves are dysfunctional as well, weakness can cause a person to trip from a foot drop, or make holding a coffee mug as hard as holding a 75-pound dumbbell. 

 I remember as a kid watching a movie set in Asia, and the father was holding hot pots and pans with his bare hands. His wife made him realize he had lost the feeling in his hands, which turned out to be from leprosy. That movie scared the dickens out of me!

Then decades later in real life, I saw a diabetic person have a similar issue due to peripheral neuropathy. Maybe 40 percent of those who have diabetes more than 10 years will develop neuropathy in their hands and feet. With the explosion of waistlines and folks developing diabetes, I can only imagine that in the near future, there will be more people who suffer from neuropathy. 

 Sometimes I would love to be numb to the world, but that isn't practical. Drinking too much alcohol (addiction and/or escaping all the troubles of the world) can lead to diffuse neuropathy. Other toxic things like heavy metals, solvents, and chemotherapy can all cause nerve damage. 

 Infections like Lyme disease, HIV, and hepatitis B or C can turn off the feeling switch. Famous libertines from Napoleon to Hitler had syphilis, which can cause neuropathy– and in their cases, insanity.

Interestingly, campylobacter (a bacterium commonly found on raw poultry that causes Niagara Falls of the colon) is linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS),  an acute problem in which a person becomes paralyzed and might stop breathing, though the sense of touch isn't impaired as badly. GBS is also seen after trauma (like a car accident) or in some folks after a vaccination. 

 Some cancers such as lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and advanced stages of other cancers, can cause a diffuse neuropathy. 

 Hypothyroidism does not cause all the evils of the world, though many people think it does, but it can cause diffuse neuropathy. 

 A rare genetic disorder, Charcot-Marie-Tooth, occurs in 41/100,000 people in Norway and causes diffuse nerve dysfunction.

 Diagnosis is made clinically and can be confirmed by nerve conduction studies and electromyography. So seeing a neurologist is a good idea. Labs to check Vitamin B12 and malabsorption disorders can all help in diagnosis and treatment of neuropathy. Medicines can also be used to help ease the discomfort of neuropathic pain.

 I hope my iPhone never develops a neuropathy. My instant access to the world would be cut off, making feel like I live in the ‘80s again. 

The horror! The horror!


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice and an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.