What causes neuralgia?

The causes of neuralgia are as diverse as the nervous system itself. A common origin for neuralgia is the peripheral nervous system, which transmits sensory signals from the rest of the body to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).

Neuralgia can stem from autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or Guillain-Barré syndrome, or from an infection with viruses such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or Epstein-Barr virus. The varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox can, much later in life, produce painful nerve conditions such as shingles and postherpetic neuralgia. Shingles is an outbreak of painful blisters on your body, sometimes accompanied by fever, aches and pains, and general malaise and lethargy. Postherpetic neuralgia (persisting pain) can occur in the affected areas long after the rash has gone.

Infectious causes of neuralgia

Some infections can result in damage to the nerves and nerve pain including:

  • Hepatitis C
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Lyme disease (inflammatory bacterial disease spread by ticks)
  • Other bacterial and viral infections of the brain or meninges (the membranes lining the brain and spinal cord)
  • Varicella-zoster virus (the virus that causes chickenpox)

Chronic disease causes of neuralgia

Chronic disease can affect the nerves as well as other body systems. Examples of chronic diseases that can cause neuralgia include:

  • Complex regional pain syndromes
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Diabetes (a chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Multiple sclerosis (a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination and balance difficulties, and other problems)
  • Porphyria (a disorder of the heme metabolism)
  • Spinal stenosis or other problems of the spinal column (vertebrae)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (a disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
  • Vascular disorders

Other causes of neuralgia

Other causes of neuralgia include:

  • Alcohol or illicit drug abuse
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome (autoimmune nerve disorder)
  • Repetitive stress injuries, for example, carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Trauma or compression of nerves

Serious or life-threatening causes of neuralgia

Neuralgia can also occur in association with serious or even potentially life-threatening causes including:

  • Brain or spinal cord tumors
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

What are the risk factors for neuralgia?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing neuralgia. Not all people with risk factors will get neuralgia. Risk factors for neuralgia vary according to the type of condition. Some risk factors for neuralgia include:

  • Alcohol or illicit drug abuse
  • Diabetes
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Occupational activities with exposure to nerve injury (trauma, toxins)
  • Repeated physical motion or stress

    What is neuralgia?

    Your nervous system consists of two anatomic parts. The central nervous system, made up of the brain and spinal cord, acts as the central processing station for nerve signals. The peripheral nervous system transmits sensory information between the muscles, tissues and nerves in the rest of the body to the brain. Neuralgia, or nerve pain, is pain that is felt anywhere along the path of a nerv... Read more about neuralgiaintroduction


    What are the symptoms of neuralgia?

    Symptoms of neuralgia include burning, stabbing, pins-and-needles sensations, and electric shock-like sensations, but they can also include numbness or lack of feeling in the affected area. The pain may be so severe that touching or brushing alongside the area can produce discomfort.

    Common symptoms of neuralgia

    The symptoms of neuralgia are diverse and can include the ... Read more about neuralgiasymptoms


    How is neuralgia treated?

    Treatment for neuralgia begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. The cause, duration and severity of your neuralgia will determine the appropriate treatment. The goals of therapy are to manage the pain and to treat the underlying condition, if possible. Therapies include medication, surgery, and injections of local anesthetics, as well as complementary treatments such as... Read more about neuralgiatreatments

    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

    This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves