Peripheral Neuropathy: Your Questions Answered


If you are experiencing odd sensations in a particular part of your body, such as your hands or your feet, you may be affected by peripheral neuropathy. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, roughly 20 million Americans are affected by peripheral neuropathy. Find out what this condition is, what causes it and what you and your doctor can do to preserve your quality of life.

What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is the condition that results when nerves of the peripheral nervous system are damaged. The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves that deliver signals from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. These nerves branch out from the spinal cord into zones throughout the body called dermatomes. Peripheral neuropathy can affect one or more dermatomes, causing a disruption of communication between the brain and the body's muscles, internal organs and skin. 

There are several forms of peripheral neuropathy. The classification of these forms is based upon the cause and on which nerves are affected. Two classifications of peripheral neuropathy include the following:

  • Mononeuropathy, in which a single nerve is damaged 
  • Polyneuropathy, which occurs when multiple nerves are compromised

There are numerous causes of both of these forms of peripheral neuropathy.

What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?

One common cause of peripheral neuropathy is physical trauma or injury. Repetitive motion or overuse strain injuries also head the list of causes. One such example of peripheral neuropathy is carpal tunnel syndrome, a common affliction for individuals who type on computers for extended periods, assembly line workers, physical laborers or artists such as painters or sculptors. Sedentary individuals confined to a bed or wheelchair may subject a nerve to prolonged pressure, and their inactivity can result in peripheral neuropathy. Herniated discs can also lead to peripheral neuropathy as a result of a disc's compression on the spinal cord.

Medical conditions can also cause peripheral neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy, one of the most prevalent forms of peripheral neuropathy, is one such example. Other medical conditions that can result in the complication of peripheral neuropathy include the following:

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Cancer 
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Renal failure 
  • Liver disease
  • Lyme disease
  • Infections that affect the nerves, such as shingles.  

Other potential causes include smoking, alcohol abuse, poor nutrition, vitamin B deficiency, lead exposure and certain chemotherapy agents.

While there are various forms and causes of peripheral neuropathy, the symptoms remain similar across the board.

What Are the Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy?

Symptoms of neuropathy are most typically noted in the affected arms, hands, legs, and feet. You may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Impairment of your motor function
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Numbness
  • Tingling sensations
  • Pain, which may present as shooting, stabbing, cramping or burning 
  • Muscle twitching
  • Extreme touch sensitivity
  • Decreased touch sensitivity to pain and temperature

A lack of sensitivity to pain or temperature can result in secondary injuries, such as burns, because you may not feel the injury occurring before it's too late. When autonomic nerves of internal organs are damaged, the effects of neuropathy can present as abnormally low blood pressure and heart rate, diarrhea, constipation, incontinence or erectile dysfunction.

How Is Peripheral Neuropathy Diagnosed?

An initial physical examination by a neurologist includes an evaluation of muscle strength, tendon reflex, and motor skill capability. Blood panels will reveal any underlying causes of peripheral neuropathy, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism and other compromised metabolic function. Diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI and electromyography, will reveal the presence of tumors, herniated discs, nerve damage and any other causative abnormalities. Once your doctor has diagnosed your peripheral neuropathy and identified the cause, he or she can put together a treatment plan.

How Is Peripheral Neuropathy Treated?

Treatment for neuropathy is approached with two goals in mind. First, because neuropathy usually presents as a secondary condition, the primary cause must be addressed. For example, if your peripheral neuropathy has resulted because you are a diabetic, then your diabetes must be managed effectively with proper diet and medication. The second goal of treatment is to alleviate your discomfort. Symptomatic relief of pain caused by peripheral neuropathy may be sought from over-the-counter analgesics and prescription-strength pain management drugs.  Prescribed antidepressant drugs have also been shown to be helpful in relieving the discomfort of peripheral neuropathy. You may also find holistic therapy, such as acupuncture, to be beneficial in reducing your symptoms. Physical therapy may be helpful in addressing weakness and decreased coordination. There are additional medical treatment options that your neurologist may recommend, depending on what caused your peripheral neuropathy.

Depending on the extent of sustained nerve damage, you may need to make adjustments in your life to prevent secondary injuries and complications that can result from peripheral neuropathy, such as falls, burns or ulcerations on your feet.

Some types of peripheral neuropathy, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can be cured. Most types, however, cannot. The nerve damage is permanent and, in some cases, will worsen over time. If you have just started to experience symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. The sooner a treatment plan is implemented, the greater the chances are that you and your doctor will succeed in maintaining your good quality of life for years to come. To learn more, contact a healthcare center near you. 


16 April 2018

learning how to tend to sick and injured kids

My name is Dan and this is my blog. I am a recently singled father of three that is learning everything about caring for my kids as I go along. Before my wife passed, she was the one that took care of the kids when they were sick or injured, so I had a lot of learning to do and I had to do it as quickly as possible. I got together with some of the parents from my kids' school and they helped out quite a bit. I created my blog for two reasons - to keep my facts straight and to help other parents learn what I have struggled to learn.