Neuropathy - Condition and Symptoms
Neuropathy is the general medical term for any and all diseases or malfunction of the peripheral nervous system. It is more commonly referred to as Peripheral Neuropathy. The peripheral nervous system is comprised of all nerves and nerve pathways that are outside the brain and spinal cord. Neuropathy can develop gradually or suddenly, and symptoms vary in severity among individuals. Peripheral Neuropathy can be broadly categorized by the 1) type of nerve that has been damaged, 2) location of nerve damage in the body or 3) disease process that causes it. In some cases, the cause cannot be identified.
- Types: There are three main types of peripheral nerves: motor nerves that control voluntary movement, sensory nerves that control what we sense (e.g., pain, touch, temperature), and autonomic nerves that control involuntary movement (e.g., breathing). Motor Neuropathy would therefore be Neuropathy that affected voluntary movement.
- Location: Mononeuropathy is nerve damage that occurs in one area of the body while polyneuropathy is nerve damage that occurs in many areas. Symmetric Neuropathy describes the disorder when it occurs in the same places on both sides of the body.
- Disease process: Diabetic Neuropathy is caused by diabetes.
- Unidentified Cause: When a cause cannot be identified, the condition is called Idiopathic Neuropathy. Peripheral Neuropathy can be caused by many things, including alcoholism, metabolic disorders, autoimmune disorders, nerve compression, entrapment or laceration, inflammation, diabetes, medications, liver failure, and vitamin deficiencies. If left untreated, Peripheral Neuropathy may result in permanent loss of nerve function, tissue damage, and muscle atrophy.
Regardless of the cause, Peripheral Neuropathy can be a very debilitating condition that may affect every aspect of an individual’s life. It can severely limit a person’s ability to walk, stand, lift, or carry items.
Your doctor will give you both a physical and neurological examination to diagnose Peripheral Neuropathy. Tests may include nerve conduction velocity studies (NCV), electromyography (EMG), electroencephalography (EEG), spinal tap, blood and urine tests, and imaging procedures such as a CAT scan or MRI scan. These tests reveal the speed at which your nerve impulses travel, measure electrical response and activity, and determine if there is an underlying cause for the condition, such as diabetes or meningitis.
Symptoms of Neuropathy depend on the type of nerve(s) affected (e.g., autonomic, motor, or sensory) and where the nerve is located in the body. One or more types of nerves may be damaged. Autonomic nerve damage, which will affect involuntary movement, may show up as abnormal blood pressure or heart rate, incontinence, or sexual dysfunction. Motor nerve damage, which affects voluntary movement, often results in cramping, spasms, and muscle weakness, as well as loss of balance and/or coordination. Sensory nerve damage can produce tingling, numbness, and pain.
Many times treatment of the underlying cause will reduce or eliminate symptoms. Direct treatment options for reducing pain include medications that target nerve cells, injection therapy that shoots a nerve blocking substance into the area surrounding the affected nerves, vitamin therapy to treat Nutritional Neuropathy, and physical therapy or acupuncture to ease pressure or reduce pain. Surgery may be needed to treat some causes of Neuropathy, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Peripheral Neuropathy has a better chance of being slowed or reversed when early diagnosis and treatments are made. The longer the condition goes untreated, the more likely it is that permanent nerve damage will result.
Filing for Social Security Disability with a Diagnosis of Peripheral Neuropathy
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider both your Neuropathy and any underlying causes in evaluating your application for Social Security Disability benefits. The SSA bases its evaluations on your residual functional capacity, that is, how well you can function even with a disabling condition. Therefore, you will be approved for disability benefits only if you can provide medical documentation to show a diagnosis of Neuropathy and supporting evidence that your Neuropathy is severe enough to restrict your activities and to prevent you from engaging in substantial work activity.
There are two impairment listings in the SSA’s Blue Book that specifically deal with Peripheral Neuropathy, Section 9.08 and Section 11.14.
Section 9.08 discusses Neuropathy in conjunction with Diabetes Mellitus. To meet the requirements of this section, you must have a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus with Neuropathy characterized by tremor, paralysis, ataxia, or even involuntary movement in at least two of your arms and legs which causes continued inability to perform fine and gross motor movements, and walking and standing limitations.
Section 11.14, Neurological System, addresses Peripheral Neuropathies directly. To qualify for disability benefits under this listing, you must have Peripheral Neuropathy that is characterized by tremor, paralysis, ataxia, or involuntary movement in at least two of your arms and legs which causes continued inability to perform fine and gross motor movements, and interferes with your ability to stand or walk.
If you do not meet these requirements in full, you may still be eligible for a medical vocational allowance if the SSA finds that, based on your functional limitations, age, education, and work skills, you do not possess the ability to return to your past work and are unable to transition to another type of other work.
Your Peripheral Neuropathy Disability Case
If you are disabled because of Peripheral Neuropathy that is so severe it prevents you from working, you may well be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. Working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim in front of the Disability Determination Services (DDS) can help ensure that your Peripheral Neuropathy disability case will have the highest possible chance of success.