What are the Common Causes of Neuralgia?

Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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The most common causes of neuralgia are inflammation, usually related to injury; chronic health conditions, particularly Multiple Sclerosis and diabetes; and tumors and growths that impact nerve pathways. In some cases the condition also happens as a natural consequence of aging. It can often be relieved with certain medications and lifestyle modifications, but it can’t always be totally cured. Neuralgia is a type of nerve damage, and whether or not it can be truly fixed usually depends on how bad that damage is, as well as how early it’s caught. Healthcare providers generally look to alleviate the cause first, then deal with any residual nerve pain as a secondary concern.

Neuralgia Basics

Neuralgia is broad medical disorder that covers nearly any sort of nerve inflammation or damage. Pain is almost always the most immediate and noticeable symptom, and people with the condition often feel a burning, stabbing, or tingling sensation anywhere along the nerve’s main course. These sensations are often the most profound near the nerve endings, and are often very common in the head and face. With the exception of nerve inflammation that happens as a consequence of aging, it’s really rare for the condition to happen all on its own. There is almost always some other triggering event, whether an injury, a chemical imbalance, or another medical problem, that causes it.


Inflammation and Injury

Trauma, whether from an injury or surgical procedure, is one of the most common causes. Internal pressure on nerves from virtually any source can cause the nerve and its casing to swell, wear down, and lose sensitivity. This is generally known medically as “inflammation,” and it’s this inflammation that puts pressure on the nerve. It can also cause irritation and swelling of the nerve itself.

A disc herniation in the low back area is an example of a specific injury often linked with neuralgia. If the herniation is in the neck, occipital neuralgia can occur, which causes severe headaches, among other things. In the legs and hips, sciatica is an issue that results in radiating pain from the low back down the leg. In severe cases, neuralgia can spread down into the calf and ankle, too.

Chronic Health Conditions

Nerve pain and inflammation can also be caused by certain health conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and Multiple Sclerosis are among the most common. All of these impact the way the body’s protective coatings and natural lubrication systems work. Most of the body’s nerves are covered in several layers of insulation. The degradation of these layers frequently leads to neuralgia, and many different medical problems can cause that.

Certain infections can also be to blame. Lyme disease, an infection triggered by a tick bite, and shingles, a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, more commonly known as the chickenpox virus, are two common examples. Depending on individual health issues, some medications can also bring on or exacerbate neuralgia symptoms. This goes for either prescription or non-prescription drugs, as well as some herbal supplements. In some cases, exposure to certain chemicals can also create irritation of nerves.

Tumors and Cancerous Growths

People who have tumors and other abnormal growths may also experience neuralgia — particularly if those growths impede on the space otherwise used by major nerve systems. A tumor in the head, for example, can cause trigeminal neuralgia, the most common form of nerve pain located in the face. Breast cancer, too, can cause neuralgia from nerve irritation or the presence of tumors in the breast.

As a Consequence of Aging

Elderly people sometimes experience symptoms of neuralgia as a natural part of the body’s aging process. Nerve coatings can wear down and become weakened for no other reason than that they’re old, and pain and inflammation can sometimes be a consequence.

Treatment Options and Getting Help

Healthcare providers usually begin any treatment regimen by looking for the specific causes of neuralgia in an individual patient. It’s typical to start treating the underlying condition first, be it an injury or a disease like diabetes. Only once that problem is under control do most look to treating or curing nerve damage. Neuralgia will often respond to pain medications, and many medical experts use these as something of a first-line defense. Limiting movements that can aggravate damage and learning exercises to strengthen the nerve casing can also help. In extreme cases nerve blocks might also be required. These are basically injections of strong medication intended to dull sensation and nerve signals.


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