Alcoholic Neuropathy Guide: Discover The Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis Methods & Preventative Measures

Written by Mary | Last Updated on 
November 24th, 2019 at 12:41 am

Alcoholic neuropathy is serious condition caused by drinking alcohol in excess.

People with alcoholic neuropathy experience pain and strange sensations such as numbing, tingling, and burning feeling in the limbs, decreased ability to walk, and loss of certain bodily functions. 

Therefore, it is important to identify the symptoms related to alcoholic neuropathy.

Alcohol can damage nerve tissue, especially if drank in excess.

People who drink in excess begin to experience pain and a tingling sensation in their limbs such as hands, feet, arms, and legs.

Alcohol disrupts the function of the peripheral nerves, which are responsible for sending signals between the body, spinal cord, and brain.

Since your nerves need adequate amounts of thiamine, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin E, and niacin to function properly, excessive alcohol use depletes the nerves of these necessary nutrients, leading neuropathy to spread and worsen.

A person will need to stop drinking to restore the lost nutrients. In doing so, it can decrease the symptoms and prevent additional nerve damage. However, some nerve damage due to alcohol is permanent.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy?

People with alcoholic neuropathy may experience the following symptoms:

Symptoms in Arms and Legs

  • Loss of muscle functioning
  • Movement disorders
  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Muscle weakness and atrophy
  • Numbness
  • Prickly sensation
  • Tingling and/or burning sensation

Symptoms in Urinary and Bowel

  • Constipation
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Feeling that the bladder has not been completely emptied
  • Incontinence

Less Common Symptoms

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heat intolerance, especially after working out
  • Impaired speech
  • Impotence
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Vomiting and nausea

What Causes Alcoholic Neuropathy

alcoholic beverages

The exact cause of alcoholic neuropathy has not been determined, but is most likely due to drinking in excess, which poisons the nerves and depletes the body of essential nutrients.

In the United States, 25 percent to 66 percent chronic alcohol users develop some type of nerve pain.

According to research, nutrient deficiency can cause alcoholic neuropathy, as alcohol can modify the intake, absorption, and usage of several types of nutrients such vitamin B12, thiamine, vitamin B2, vitamin E, folate, and nicotinic acid.

How to Diagnose Alcoholic Neuropathy

When a person suspects they have developed alcoholic neuropathy, they need to take their doctor in confidence and tell them that they are battling alcohol addiction.

Since there are more than one causes of neuropathy, knowing about a person’s excessive drinking can help doctors reach a diagnosis as accurate as possible. To make an accurate diagnosis, the doctor will order for one or more of the following tests:

1. Blood Chemistry Test 

A blood chemistry tests gives doctors an indication of an individual’s overall health, including the status of the liver and kidney function and blood sugar levels.

2. Complete Blood Count (CBC)

A complete blood count examines the different types of blood cells and platelets, which assist in clotting, in the body. The test indicates the performance of the immune system and the amount of oxygen is traveling through your entire body.

3. Esophagogastroduodenoscopy

Esophagogastroduodenoscopy is a thin tube with a camera attached to it. The doctor passes the camera down the person’s throat to check for causes of vomiting and nausea.

4. Electromyography

Electromyography are needles inserted into different places of the muscles and skin to measure electrical activity and can determine if a person suffers from alcohol neuropathy.

5. Nerve Biopsy

Nerve biopsy is the removal of a small sample of nerve tissue, which the doctor tests for damage. Normally, doctors sedate the person to perform this test.

6. Nerve Conduction Test

Nerve conduction test involves putting electrodes on the skin to measure the strength and speed of nerve signals.

7. Neurological Examination

Neurological examination is a type of physical examination that tests the reflexes, coordination, muscle strength, and sensory function of a person.

8. Upper Gastrointestinal and Small Bowel Series

Upper gastrointestinal and small bowel series are a set of X-rays doctors use to examine the function of the digestive tract.

Apart from these tests, the doctor may even want to check the performance of the liver kidneys, and thyroid. The doctor may also request additional blood tests to check for nutrient and vitamin deficiencies.

Preventive Measures

Abstaining from drinking is the best preventive measure a person can take to reduce the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy and keep the condition from becoming worse.

Depending on the severity of a person’s alcohol dependence, doctors may suggest them to opt for either an inpatient or an outpatient rehab.

They may also encourage them to join community-based support groups and other suitable options to abstain from drinking alcohol.

A person can also make changes to their lifestyle by eating right and working out regularly.

The doctor may also prescribe a person with pain medication, vitamins, supplements, hand exercises and foot exercises, physical therapy, orthopedic appliances to stabilize movement, safety gear to prevent injuries, and special stockings for legs to prevent dizziness.

When To Contact Your Doctor

People who drink alcohol excessively and have experienced one or more symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy should consult a doctor without delay. They first thing they should do is to put a stop on their drinking habit and seeking professional help to become a sober.

However, not everyone experiences several symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy and a person may only experience one. Regardless if the person develops one or more symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy, they should seek help from a doctor as soon as they experience a strange sensation and feeling in their hands, arms, feet, and arms.

But the best course of action would be to stop drinking alcohol and seek help to beat the addiction before a person develops alcoholic neuropathy.