HOW IS NEURITIS DIFFERENT FROM NEUROPATHY?
By Dr. Steven Waldman of Milwaukee Foot & Ankle Specialists of Milwaukee, WI
All too often medical language uses words that sound awfully similar to describe things that are quite different. This, of course, can be remedied by asking your doctor questions about any of the words that they use that you may not understand. Hopefully, a good doctor will spend the time to explain to you what is going on in your body.
Two of such words that are used all of the time in podiatry are “neuritis” and “neuropathy”. The term “neuritis” describes an inflammation of a nerve anywhere in the body. Neuritis can be caused by a variety of factors but in the end the nerve becomes inflamed or irritated, which can cause a over-sensitive area in the body. A great way to describe this process is to think that normal nerves in your feet look a lot like dental floss. When “neuritis” occurs, an area of that nerve becomes enlarged and swollen and will look a lot like a pearl or a scallop. Now remember what nerves do; nerves transmit sensation information (hot, cold, pain, sharp, dull, etc.) in the form of electrical signals to the brain. When the nerve is so large instead of the size it should have been in a very confined area of the body, it can really cause a lot of discomfort. A common form of neuritis in the foot is a Morton’s Neuroma.
Neuropathy, on the other hand, is used to describe a loss of a nerve’s sensation. This process can occur along with a variety of diseases (our diabetic patients deal with neuropathy quite frequently) and is much more of a chronic condition. In situations of neuropathy, many patients will initially lose their sensation of touch. This is a dangerous condition as not being able to feel ones feet (in the case of podiatry) can result in a variety of issues as patients may not even realize that they have a wound. Patients with neuropathy still deal with pain however, as a constant tingling or burning sensation can occur when a nerve is not sending the appropriate sensation information back to the brain.
Neuritis and neuropathy are two very different terms. Though they both deal with nerves within the body, the process of each condition as well as the resulting symptoms are quite different. Hopefully with this information you now have a better idea of what your doctor is describing. However, if you are ever confused the first step towards understanding is taking a second to ask your doctor!
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