Peripheral neuropathy is a medical condition commonly characterized by weakness, numbness and pain from nerve damage, primarily in the hands and feet. However, it can also affect other parts of the body.
According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 20 million people in America have some form of peripheral neuropathy. It is also worth noting that the medical condition is especially common among those with diabetes. In fact, a separate study published by Medical News Today, an online resource for medical news aimed at physicians and the general public alike, noted that between 60 and 70 percent of individuals with diabetes are also struggling with peripheral neuropathy. What’s more, emerging data is suggesting a possible link between peripheral neuropathy and estrogen fluctuation, which means that post-menopausal women are also at risk of developing this condition.
What You May Not Have Known About Peripheral Neuropathy
Current data shows that approximately eight percent of the U.S. population over the age of 65 has peripheral neuropathy. It is also noteworthy that, aside from age and diabetes, the condition can be brought on by any of the following:
How Does This Condition Affect the Body?
Now that we have a better understanding of who is most at risk of developing peripheral neuropathy, let’s take a closer look at how the medical condition affects the body. Neuropathy-based disorders occur when the nerves that exist outside of the brain and spinal cord become damaged. When this happens, the peripheral nervous system is no longer able to relay critical information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body and vice versa. This breakdown of communication within the body can trigger numerous symptoms, which can vary depending on the nerves that are affected. However, some of the more commonly reported symptoms include the following:
- Sharp pain
- Burning or throbbing pain
- Sensitivity to touch
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness in the hands, arms, legs, or feet
- A loss of coordination
How Low Estrogen Levels Can Intensify Neuropathy-Based Disorders in Post-Menopausal Women
As we get older, the risk of developing chronic diseases increases significantly. Neuropathy-based disorders are no exception. For example, fluctuating estrogen levels, a natural occurrence among menopausal women, can trigger neuropathy-based disorders. During puberty, estrogen is the hormone that enables women to develop breasts and wider hips. It also contributes to the growth of pubic and armpit hair and also helps regulate women’s menstrual cycle. Above all else, estrogen plays a role in modulating visceral pain, which is an intense pain commonly felt in the pelvis, abdomen, chest or intestines, during menstruation.
However, as women age and eventually enter menopause, their ability to produce estrogen naturally starts to decline. As a result, they become more susceptible to visceral pain and many of the other symptoms associated with neuropathy-based disorders. This is evidenced by a study published by the National Institutes of Health, which revealed that women with normal, healthy estrogen levels were less likely to struggle with a neuropathy-based disorder compared to those with low estrogen. For this reason, physicians will often advise menopausal women to undergo hormone-replacement therapy.
Hormone-Replacement Therapy to Treat Peripheral Neuropathy in Post-Menopausal Women
The same study published by the National Institutes of Health revealed that menopausal hormone-replacement therapy, which entails balancing estrogen and progesterone levels, is a viable treatment for women struggling with a neuropathy-based disorder. The study, which was conducted by the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in India between 2011 and 2013 and consisted of 30 post-menopausal women with a peripheral neuropathy-based disorder, revealed that hormone-replacement therapy helps increase motor nerve conduction velocity, which refers to the speed at which an electrical impulse moves through nerves in the body. Researchers and scientists involved in the study found that post-menopausal women who underwent hormone-replacement therapy not only benefited from stabilized estrogen and progesterone levels but also lower motor nerve conduction velocity, one of the primary contributors to peripheral neuropathy.