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Merry Christmas to you from Normal, Illinois!

If you don't mind, I have several questions for you. If you choose to answer them, please be as thorough as possible. In my experience, "ideopathic" is a term neurologists use when they aren't able to make your symptoms fit the rigidly structured list of diseases/disorders they know about (more on this later.)

Where is your neuralgia? What are your specific symptoms, when did they start, and did they come on all of a sudden or did they appear gradually? Do you have any other health problems? Do you have any relatives (alive or deceased) who have (or had) neuralgia or related conditions? What movements, activities, or external agents (emotional stress, weather, dietary habits) make the symptoms worse? What, if anything, reduces the severity or frequency of your symptoms? What drugs or other therapies have you tried, and have any of them made your symptoms better or worse, even for a short time? Finally, what diagnostic procedures have you had done to try to find the source of your neuralgia?

These are just a few of the questions a competent neurologist would ask you to help pinpoint a diagnosis. The field of neurology is very complicated at the cellular and molecular levels, and humans have only come to understand a mere fraction of what there is to know. Diagnostic tools (like MRIs, CTs, and nerve conduction tests, for example) are much better than the tools used just a decade or two ago, but they are really very crude compared to the complexity of the nervous system. These tests often fail to detect very small defects or trauma that can cause immense pain. Unfortunately, many neurologists (and to be fair, other doctors) misinterpret the results of these tests. All too often, I hear (or hear of) doctors saying things like "Your tests came back negative, so you shouldn't be having the symptoms you're having," when they should really be saying "Your tests were inconclusive, but maybe what you have can't be detected by present-day diagnostic tools."

In the cases of ideopathic neuropathy (or any other condition,) a good doctor will treat the symptoms AND do what can be done to treat the most likely underlying cause. Most doctors seem to practice this philosophy, but some don't seem to be able to get past the notion that the diagnostic tests aren't capable of detecting everything. In some respects, inconclusive (or as doctors like to say, "unremarkable") test results can lead doctors away from the right diagnosis, and they fuel the skepticism and speculation that lend credence to articles like the ones that claim aspartame or other substances to be responsible for a number of illnesses.

I'll get off my "soap box" for now. If you have the time and wish to answer the questions above, I'll be happy to share what I've learned from my own research and experiences (30+ years of dealing with my own occipital neuralgia) as well as from the many dozens of conversations I've had with others who have dealt with neuralgia.

By the way, I am not a doctor or other health professional (although I am an Illinois First Responder,) so my comments are not intended to replace competent medical advice. I'm happy to help others obtain information about their illnesses, but I always ask people to consult with a medical professional before acting on any advice I may provide. I do run ideas past my twin brother who IS a doctor, but that hardly gives me any medical credentials or authority.

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