Neuralgia, Nerve Pain, and Neuropathic Pain

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Neuralgia is pain in a nerve pathway and is usually a symptom of an injury, disease, or illness. It can feel like a stabbing, burning sensation and can often cause severe pain due to an irritated or damaged nerve.

Typically, neuralgia is not an illness on its own, but a symptom of an injury or particular disorder. In many cases, the cause of the pain is not known.

Most people will experience some form or neuralgia in their lifetime, however, it more commonly affects older people. The severity of neuralgia can vary significantly, from very mild to debilitating. When people experience severe neuralgia, it can have a significant impact on the quality of that person’s life.


What causes neuralgia?

Nerve pain can vary a lot and has many different causes. Some causes of nerve pain include an infection of your nerves (such as a complication of shingles), multiple sclerosis, pressure on nerves (from bones, ligaments, blood vessels or tumours), and diabetes.

Less common causes include kidney disease, medications prescribed for cancer, trauma (such as from surgery) or chemical irritation.

Because there can be a variety of issues that cause neuralgia, it is often difficult to diagnose, however, a doctor may send you for blood tests to check for infections, X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans to see if the nerves are being compressed or a neurological exam to try and determine which area is being affected.


What are the symptoms of neuralgia?

The pain from neuralgia is usually severe and can be debilitating. Symptoms include:

• Localised pain
• Sharp or burning pain in an area
• Muscle spasms
• Areas of the body that are very sensitive to touch or pressure

When seeking medical help, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and will perform a physical exam to pinpoint the location of the pain and the nerve that’s causing it, if possible. A blood test or MRI may be required to find the cause of the neuralgia.

It helps if you can keep a diary of your symptoms – when they started, how often they occur, the severity of the pain – as this can help your doctor to make a more accurate diagnosis.


Types of Neuralgia, Nerve Pain, and Neuropathic Pain

The different types of neuralgia are:

Postherpetic neuralgia

Occurs as a complication of shingles and may be anywhere on the body.

Trigeminal neuralgia

This is most common in people over 50 years old. It results in severe pain in the face, usually on one side, and is caused by damage to the trigeminal nerve, which travels from the brain and branches to different parts of the face.

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia

This type of neuralgia is not very common and causes pain in the throat and neck, from the glossopharyngeal nerve which is in the throat.

Occipital neuralgia

Irritation of the nerve that runs from the back of the skull that causes a headache or pain in the back of the head, and sometimes the forehead. It is suspected that tense muscles or ligaments, viral infection, trauma to the neck and bad posture may be a cause of this.


How can neuralgia be treated?

As there are many causes of neuralgia, the treatment will be based on the cause of the issue. If the cause cannot be found, you will be treated for pain relief. This can include medications, surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve, physical therapy, an injection into the nerve or nerve group to act as a nerve block and blood sugar controls for those with diabetes.

Neuralgia causes painful symptoms that vary in duration and severity. As well as pain, neuralgia can cause numbness, muscle weakness, and hypersensitivity.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, seek out a health professional who will be able to advise you on the best treatment plan.

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