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What causes a burning sensation in the feet?

In most cases, a burning sensation of the feet is caused by neuropathy, but it can also be caused by a fungal infection or inflammation of the feet, or a peripheral artery disease.

Neuropathy (damage of the nerves) is the main cause of a burning sensation in the feet.

The most common condition that causes burning feet is diabetes.

Other medical conditions that can cause neuropathy are:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Uremia (chronic kidney disease)
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Amyloid polyneuropathy
  • Erythromelalgia
  • Metal poisoning (mercury, lead)
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Hypertension
  • Guillain Barre Syndrome
  • Edema or fluid retention
  • Vasculitis

An infection or inflammation of the feet can cause a burning sensation. Usually they are fungal infections.

Peripheral artery disease also causes a burning sensation of the feet. A poor circulation of blood, especially while walking will cause pain, tingling and burning of the feet.

Symptoms may start as a tingling and they may change to a numbness as the disease progresses. In some cases there may be a combination of numbness and a heightened sensation at certain times or with stimulation.

How is a burning sensation of the feet diagnosed?

For persons who suffer from diabetes, the diagnosis of neuropathy is quite easy and in many cases additional testing is not needed.

If this burning sensation of the feet has an unexplained cause, if it occurs suddenly and if the symptoms get worse in a short time, additional tests are needed to diagnose the neuropathy correctly.

Tests needed for the diagnosis of neuropathy are:

  • Electromyography- tests the function of the muscles by placing a needle on the skin, or inside the muscle.
  • Nerve conduction study - shows if nerves are able to transmit impulses
  • Nerve biopsy - the examination of a piece of the nerve with the help of a microscope. This is done very rarely.
  • Laboratory tests - blood, urine or spinal fluid tests are performed to diagnose the cause of the neuropathy like in the case of vitamin E deficiency or uremia.

How is it treated?

It is very important to stop further damage to the nerves. In most cases, treatment of the cause will improve the symptoms.

If the cause is diabetes, proper blood sugar control and insulin treatment, a change of diet and oral medication are recommended.

If the cause is alcohol abuse, stopping alcohol consumption will prevent further damage to the nerves, and even allow them to recover.

If the cause of neuropathy is chronic kidney failure, dialysis might be needed.

If the cause is hypothyroidism, taking oral synthetic thyroid homes will reduce the symptoms.

Some of the medications prescribed for the treatment of neuropathy are:

  • Desipramine
  • Gabapentin
  • Amitriptyline

If a burning sensation of the feet is caused by an infection or inflammation, proper treatment with antifungal drugs is necessary. In most cases infections are fungal.

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