What to Do About Nerve Tingling

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Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage. Nerves communicate with the brain. Nerves are located in your arms and legs and throughout your body. A nerve provides an electrical stimulus to muscles that 'tells' the muscles to move. Nerves also receive input from various locations of body, sending messages to the brain about the body’s sensations, such as hot and cold, pain and touch.

When nerves are damaged, the symptoms can be quite diverse.

The symptoms of a stroke are also diverse. So it is natural to confuse the two conditions because many of the symptoms of neuropathy and stroke overlap.

The Differences Between Stroke and Neuropathy

  • Timing: A stroke is much more dangerous than neuropathy and usually occurs suddenly. Neuropathy on the other hand, while a serious medical condition, is generally not a dangerous emergency and develops over a longer period of time than a stroke does.
  • Associated Symptoms: Another important difference between neuropathy and stroke is that neuropathy does not directly cause some of the symptoms that are commonly associated with stroke, such as headaches, dizziness or vision changes.


Neuropathy can cause in changes in sensation. Changes may include a lack of sensation or unusual sensations such as pain, tingling, burning, numbness or even crawling sensations. Often, neuropathy causes hypersensitivity, which is an exaggerated, usually uncomfortable perception of otherwise mild contact.

Neuropathy can also cause weakness of the affected arms or legs. Usually, this only occurs when neuropathy is advanced in severity. Neuropathy is usually considered a disease of both sides of the body, but it is common for one side to be worse than the other.

Some people notice balance problems with neuropathy.

This is generally not as extreme as the balance problems that accompany a stroke. Balance problems caused by neuropathy are generally most noticeable when people try to walk a straight line or stand up with both feet next to each other. Neuropathy causes balance problems because people with neuropathy have trouble sensing where their feet are on the ground. This makes it difficult to do things that require good coordination, such as walking in straight line.


When a person with neuropathy has their reflexes checked, reflexes generally do not move as briskly as normal. This often helps doctors differentiate between neuropathy and stroke.

Diagnostic tests called Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Study (NCV) demonstrate nerve abnormalities in patients with neuropathy. Brain imaging studies show abnormalities in patients with stroke.

Long-Term Problems 

The biggest problems with neuropathy are the long-term problems. People with neuropathy cannot adequately feel pain in the feet or hands, so when the hands, fingers, feet or toes become injured or cut, a person who has neuropathy might not even realize it. Bleeding, scabs, and even infections can result when injuries go unnoticed.

Long-term problems of stroke are quite different and can include muscle atrophy and muscle stiffness.

Causes of Neuropathy

There are many causes of neuropathy, such as diabetes, medications, chemotherapy, kidney failure, chronic alcohol use, vitamin b12 deficiency, and some infections.

One of the most severe types of neuropathy is Guillan Barre Syndrome, also called acute demyelinating polyneuropathy. This dangerous disease is characterized by a quickly progressive tingling and weakness, usually beginning in the feet, with rapidly ascending weakness of the legs and eventually, weakness of  the muscles that control breathing, causing severe, life-threatening respiratory problems.


Neuropathy is very difficult to treat. The most effective treatment is to control the cause - whether it is alcohol, diabetes or medication. In some cases, if neuropathy is diagnosed early, medically managing the cause can reverse some or most of the symptoms. Medication for the pain and discomfort caused by neuropathy is helpful for most patients.

Neuropathy can cause symptoms that seem similar to the symptoms of a stroke. Neuropathy, however, is caused by nerve disease, which occurs outside the brain, while a stroke is caused by inadequate blood flow in the brain itself.


Weiner, William J., Goetz, Christopher G, Neurology for the Non-Neurologist, Fifth Edition, Lippincott Wiliams& Winkins, 2004

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