Nerve pain can be a symptom of many different conditions, including cancer, HIV, diabetes, and shingles. For some, nerve pain is frustrating; for others, nerve pain is devastating and life-changing.
Whether it feels like burning, pinpricks, or sudden shocks of electricity, nerve pain can disrupt your life at home and at work. It can limit your ability to get around. Over time, it can grind you down. Studies show that people with nerve pain have higher rates of sleep problems, anxiety, and depression.
When you have a serious medical condition such as cancer or HIV, dealing with the additional misery of nerve pain can be especially hard. But there is good news. While nerve pain can’t always be cured, it can be treated — and there are a lot of good options available.
If you’re struggling with nerve pain caused by diabetes, cancer, HIV or another condition, here are some answers.
What Causes Nerve Pain?
Countless nerves in the body convey sensations to the brain, including pain. While we might not like pain much, it does have an important function: it prevents injury. When your foot begins to step on a nail, it’s the pain sensation that alerts your brain to the danger.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, at least. But in people with nerve pain, that messaging system isn’t working correctly. Your brain receives a pain signal, and you feel the pain, but there’s no obvious cause. Now, it’s just pain without a purpose — and because of this, there’s no immediate way to relieve it.
What makes the nerves behave this way? Usually, it’s damage from a physical injury or disease.
These are only a few examples of diseases and conditions that can cause nerve damage and nerve pain. Others include repetitive stress, vitamin deficiencies, hormone imbalances, heart disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Lyme disease, alcoholism, and more. In some cases, nerve pain develops for no apparent reason.
Nerve Pain Symptoms
Symptoms of nerve damage can vary from person to person. Sometimes, the nerves become hypersensitive. Something that normally feels painless — a breeze on your arm, the sensation of a bed sheet on your body — becomes painful.
Damage to the sensory nerves doesn’t only cause pain. It can also result in:
In extreme cases, nerve damage can cause paralysis and affect things like digestion and breathing.
The severity of nerve pain is usually linked to the severity of the underlying disease. So in general, nerve pain tends to be worse as people get older.