You have burning, stinging feelings in your hands and feet, sometimes to the point where you want to cry. Sometimes, the pain radiates throughout your body, triggering headaches and other discomforts. You may be experiencing neuropathic pain, and though it has many causes, its symptoms can often be managed with treatments like antidepressants or ketamine infusion therapy.
What Is Neuropathic Pain?
You can experience neuropathic pain if your nervous system is hurt or not working the way it should. Pain sensations can radiate from any of the different levels of your nervous system – the brain, peripheral nerves, and the spinal cord. Combined, your brain and spinal cord make up your body’s central nervous system. Peripheral nerves are nerves that spread out to the rest of your body to pain-sensitive spots like arms, legs, organs, fingers, and toes.
Neuropathic Pain Symptoms
Pain is different for everyone. Each person reacts to pain differently and may have a higher or lower tolerance than someone else. And depending on your health, family history, and other factors, experiencing neuropathic pain can also trigger depression.
But pain can have many symptoms to watch for, including:
- A gradual numbing sensation, or prickling or stinging in the hands or feet, which can radiate further into the arms and legs
- Sharp, throbbing, jabbing, or burning sensation
- Heightened sensitivity to being touched
- Pain when you’re doing something that shouldn’t trigger pain, like pain in your feet when pulling on socks or when you’re standing up
- Poor coordination and falling
- Muscle weakness
- Feeling like you’re wearing socks or gloves when you’re not
- Paralysis in the case of damaged motor nerves
- Heat intolerance
- Excessive perspiration or you’re unable to sweat
- Bowel, bladder, or gastrointestinal issues
- Lower blood pressure, triggering dizziness, or lightheadedness
Finding the Right Antidepressant
Each antidepressant works differently with various side effects, so choosing the best treatment for your condition should be discussed with a medical professional. Choosing an effective medicine like ketamine or something else not only depends on your health and knowing potential side effects, but also:
- Your symptoms.
- Your family medical history. Depression tends to run in families, and certain kinds of neuropathic pain may be hereditary.
- How well similar medicine worked for a close relative.
- Allergies and interaction with other medications.
- Other medical conditions, like mental illness, pregnancy, or cancer.
Antidepressants & Neuropathic Pain?
No one knows for certain how antidepressants work on the brain, but their part in strengthening and repairing damaged neurotransmitters can’t be dismissed. Neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers like glutamate, play a critical role in transmitting pain signals throughout the body via the central nervous system. If those transmitters are disrupted, the brain’s perception of pain is changed, too, causing problems with emotions, sensory processing, the sensation of chronic pain like neuropathy, and mental health problems like depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other conditions. Common antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help alleviate those problems.
The painkilling mechanism contained within antidepressants and their power to treat symptoms of neuropathic pain is still being investigated. Antidepressants like SSRIs may boost the quantity of neurotransmitters in the spinal cord which control pain signals, but they don’t work instantly.
You may feel some relief from an antidepressant after a week or so, but maximum relief may take several weeks.
Types of pain that can be relieved by antidepressants
Neuropathic pain is a kind of chronic pain and can have several causes. Many of its symptoms can be managed with medicine like ketamine. Pain that can be managed with antidepressants include:
- Nerve damage caused by diabetes, also known as diabetic neuropathy
- Shingles can trigger nerve damage, a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia
- Nerve pain from other sources, like a spinal cord injury, peripheral neuropathy, stroke, or radiculopathy
- Tension headaches and migraines
- Facial pain
- Lower back pain
- Pelvic pain
- Pain caused by multiple sclerosis can sometimes be managed with antidepressants or medicine like ketamine
Diagnosis & Treatment
Neuropathic pain can’t be diagnosed with a single test, but several can be used to assess the pain, its severity, and where it comes from. The goal is twofold: discover the source of the pain and treat it. Once diagnosed, you may be prescribed medicine like antidepressants or ketamine, a fitness plan, new dietary guidelines, or different kinds of therapy.
If you’re one of 16 million people with neuropathic pain, antidepressants like ketamine may help relieve headaches and other symptoms. The medicine is often dispensed intravenously in low doses at specialty clinics nationwide.