Nerve pain

Family Health Diary

Nerve pain is pain that is caused by damage or disease that affects the nervous system of the body. It is also known as neuropathic pain or neuralgia. Damage to the nerves can cause problems with the way signals get from your body to your brain. It is different to the common type of pain that is due to an injury.  Often it will require different medicines than other types of pain.

When you hurt yourself, your nerves send messages to your brain telling the brain that you are in pain. Nerve pain is when this is not working so well. Messages are sent saying you are in pain and you do feel real pain, but the nerve impulse is caused by the nerve itself. Sometimes the pain used to have a real cause but now the thing that was causing the pain has gone away and you still feel the pain e.g. if you had shingles and they have damaged the nerve endings so they keep sending the pain signals. Another example is when someone has had an amputation (e.g. a foot or part of a leg removed) it is not uncommon for the person to still feel the limb and sometimes still feel pain in that limb. 

Things that can cause nerve pain include:

  • Events like a sports accident that has caused nerve damage
  • Shingles
  • Diabetic nerve damage
  • Cancer
  • Amputation
  • HIV

What does it feel like?
Nerve pain can be burning, pinpricks, or sudden shocks like electric shocks.  It can feel stabbing or shooting or aching. Nerve pain might be just annoying or it might completely upset your life at home and at work. It might only last for a few weeks after an accident or infection, or it might last the rest of your life. Over time the non-stop pain really wears a person down. It is important to act quickly to get the right pain relief. Don’t just keep putting up with it and think it will get better. The longer you are in pain the more difficult it is to treat.

Nerve pain isn’t always helped by normal pain relievers like paracetamol or anti-inflammatories. These may be useful or used in addition to other medicines, but are not always sufficient alone. There are some medicines used specifically for nerve pain that your doctor can prescribe. Often they aren’t traditional pain relievers at all but originally developed for some other reason. People can be confused if they go home and look up their medicines on the internet and find that someone on the internet said this medicines is for (e.g. antidepressant or for epilepsy) when the doctor said it was for their pain. These types of medicines are often used along with more traditional pain relievers to help you be pain free. There are also some medicines specifically for nerve pain that your doctor might prescribe.

If you have questions about what a medicine is used for, you can ask your pharmacist or the person who prescribed the medicine. For nerve pain or any long term pain that won’t go away, you may be referred to a specialist. There are special pain clinics attached to the main city hospitals in most DHB regions. If you have chronic pain and it is not improving it is a good idea to ask your GP to refer you to a pain specialist.

Written by Linda Caddick

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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