Complications caused by prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption are diverse and highly problematic. And we’re not just talking about increased calories and fat storage, or reduced exercise recovery times. One of the consequences of this consumption is alcoholic neuropathy, which is a toxic effect of alcohol that manages to damage the nerves of human beings, preventing them from moving and feeling normal. Today, we explain what this condition consists of and what its symptoms are.
What Is Alcoholic Neuropathy?
When a person drinks large amounts of alcohol over a prolonged period of time, the body’s nerves can be damaged, resulting in a decrease in their function. This condition is known as alcoholic neuropathy. The nerves that run through the body connect to each other from the central nervous system through the spine to the peripheral nervous system and send signals from the entire body to the brain and vice versa.
Through these, we are able to send motor signals from the central nervous system thanks to the motor nerves, as well as perceive sensations from the sensory nerves. Some of the functions of the nerves are autonomous, such as regulating temperature, breathing, or maintaining the heart rate. Peripheral nerve damage caused by prolonged alcohol consumption can lead to severe deficits in movement and muscle sensation.
Causes of Alcoholic Neuropathy
The exact causes of alcoholic neuropathy are not fully understood. Some proposals claim that ethanol, a chemical found in alcoholic beverages, can have direct toxic effects on nerve cells. In addition, on many occasions, alcoholic people do not eat an adequate diet, since they tend to replace meals with alcohol. This entails a corresponding nutritional lack, especially of vitamins B1 and B12, thiamine, niacin, or vitamin E among others, which are essential for proper nerve function and which contribute to this damage in these structures.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy
Alcoholic neuropathy affects both movement and sensory ability. Symptoms can range from some discomfort to greater disability to carry out any daily function. Commonly, alcoholics begin to experience pain or paresthesia in the extremities. As the disease progresses, other types of symptoms begin to appear that gradually increase, leading to a loss of muscle strength, especially in the legs. Some of these symptoms are:
- Limb paresthesia (tingling and numbness)
- Pricking sensation in the extremities
- Stinging, burning, or freezing pains
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty with motor coordination
- Gait problems and instability
- Frequent falls
- Difficulties moving the lower and upper extremities
- Urinary problems such as difficulty urinating or incontinence
- Erection problems
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty speaking
- Heat intolerance
- Lack of pain sensation
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Respiratory problems
- Blood pressure and irregular heart rate
- Nail and skin infections
Treatment and Prognosis of Alcoholic Neuropathy
It seems that the nerve damage caused by alcoholic neuropathy is permanent and can worsen with continued alcohol consumption and prolonged nutritional deficiency. Although it is not a fatal disease in itself, this constitutes a great handicap in the daily functioning of those affected, as well as in their quality of life.
According to the American National Library of Medicine, about 50% of alcoholics will suffer from this condition throughout their illness. Alcoholic neuropathy is usually detected through medical tests that usually show a loss of reflexes and some signs of nerve problems, including decreased responses from the pupils. Other tests can also help detect alcoholic neuropathy, such as blood tests, electromyography, and even nerve biopsy.
Although nerve damage is permanent, stopping alcohol consumption and getting good nutrition can slow the progression of the disease. Rehabilitation programs are the most recommended treatments to achieve skills that help the patient to live as independently as possible, as well as to control symptoms. For this, occupational therapy, psychotherapy, and even physiotherapeutic treatments can be combined. Drug treatments may also be recommended to control pain. To get professional help with this condition, it is best to talk to someone at a Los Angeles Outpatient Rehab center.