Causes of Neuropathy in the Feet and Ankles
Neuropathy in the feet and ankles can be painful, disconcerting, and dangerous. Nerves are responsible for everything from relaying sensory information to the brain, to signaling muscles that it’s time to move, to regulating autonomic functions like blood pressure and digestion. Depending on which nerves are damaged, where, and how badly, a wide range of symptoms may result. The most common outcome—tingling and eventually numbness in the feet—disconnects your body’s “injury warning system” and leaves you open to injury, wounds, infection, and even amputation.
By far, the most common underlying cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. An estimated 30 million Americans (and growing) live with this disease, and perhaps as many as 60 to 70 percent of them have some form of neuropathy (with 30 to 40 percent showing noticeable symptoms). High blood sugar interferes with the ability of nerves to successfully transmit signals to the brain. It also depletes their supply of oxygen and other nutrients by reducing blood flow to the extremities. The effects are cumulative, so the longer you live with diabetes (and the more uncontrolled your blood glucose), the greater the risk of severe damage.
However, diabetes is not the only possible cause. Other underlying conditions and factors linked to neuropathy include:
- Other metabolic and endocrine disorders. These systemic diseases affect your body’s ability to process various nutrients (metabolic) or produce various hormones (endocrine), both of which can affect nerve health. Examples include hypothyroidism and lymphoma. (Diabetes itself is an endocrine disorder.)
- Autoimmune disorders. These conditions cause your own body to mistakenly attack its own cells. Examples that can cause neuropathy include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome.
- Infections. Viruses, bacteria, and other infected agents can attack nerve tissues directly. Examples include shingles, West Nile, hepatitis C, and HIV.
- Physical trauma or obstruction. Injuries from falls, car crashes, sports, or even surgical mistakes can traumatically damage, or in some cases even sever, nerves. Overuse injuries from repetitive motions can also be a factor. Finally, the nerves may be obstructed or pressed upon by a physical mass, such as a neuroma or tumor.
- Exposure to toxins. Many different substances can damage nerves. Alcohol abuse is perhaps the most common example of this. Kidney disease is also a common indirect cause—toxic substances build up in the blood and damage nerves because failing kidneys can’t filter them fast enough. Poisons like heavy metals, certain insecticides, or even certain medications (including chemotherapy drugs) can also poison nerves.
- Lack of nutrition. Your nerves need nutrients like B-complex vitamins, Vitamin E, and niacin to stay healthy. If you don’t get enough in your diet, or low circulation prevents them from getting to the nerves in high enough quantities, your nerves may suffer.
Sometimes no cause can be identified, which happens about 5% of the time.
Regardless of where your neuropathy came from, it’s important to take steps to manage your condition and protect your feet from damage. If you can’t trust your nerves to warn you when something is wrong, you need to take more of that responsibility on yourself. The Kansas Foot Center team is happy to help with effective treatments, regular screenings, and comprehensive foot care—give us a call today at (866) 222-5177 to set up an appointment.