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Peripheral neuropathy is a type of damage to the peripheral nervous system, the network of nerves that transmit information from the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) to the rest of the body. It is not a single disease, but rather a symptom with many possible causes.
The condition is sometimes likened to static on a telephone because peripheral neuropathy can interrupt messages between the brain and the rest of the body. Typically, neuropathy affects multiple nerves affecting all limbs. This is known as polyneuropathy. More rarely a single nerve is involved (mononeuropathy).
The condition can be inherited but is more typically acquired through physical injury to a nerve, tumors, toxins, autoimmune responses, nutritional deficiencies, alcoholism, and vascular and metabolic disorders. Physical injury through automobile accidents, falls and sports is the most common cause of injury to a nerve.
Doctors use four categories to classify the many types of neuropathy.
There are many different causes, some inherited and others due to an injury or another condition. In some acute neuropathies, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, symptoms come on suddenly and progress rapidly, then slowly subside as nerves heal. In more chronic forms of neuropathy the symptoms begin subtly and progress slowly. Some patients experience a period of relief, followed by a relapse of symptoms. The condition is very rarely fatal unless it is complicated by the presence of other diseases.
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms make an appointment with a Wellstar neurologist. The doctor will help you understand the symptoms and determine whether they indicate neuropathy or another possible cause.
Although the condition cannot be cured, there are a variety of treatments—including medications and other remedies—that can ease the discomfort.
Symptoms are many and varied depending on what part of the body is affected. These can range from mildly annoying tingling to burning pain or paralysis. Because a number of these mimic symptoms of other conditions, it’s important to see your doctor for help with diagnosis.
If autonomic nerves are involved symptoms can include:
The most common inherited form of neuropathy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, is characterized by extreme weakening and wasting of the muscles in the lower legs and feet, gait problems, loss of tendon reflexes and numbness in the lower limbs.
Risk factors for peripheral neuropathy include:
Lifestyle choices can play a role in preventing peripheral neuropathy. Wellstar doctors agree with exerts who recommend steps including:
Peripheral neuropathy can be difficult to diagnose because it has so many possible causes. Your Wellstar neurologist will work to determine the source/location of the nerve damage and what is causing it. An office will typically include a medical history that addresses symptoms, lifestyle habits and any family history of neurological diseases. A neurological examination will check reflexes, muscle strength and tone, posture, coordination and your ability to feel certain sensations.
Wellstar neurologists use a variety of tests depending on your symptoms and health status. These can include:
There is no known cure for peripheral neuropathy. But in many cases, the neuropathy itself will improve if the underlying source is treated. In general, healthy habits (avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthfully and exercising regularly) can help relieve symptoms. In extreme cases surgery may be an option to destroy nerves or repair inuries causing the symptoms.
A variety of medications can help relieve the discomfort and pain associated with peripheral neuropathy.
Discuss with your doctor about other possibilities such as TENS, a non-invasive nerve stimulation/pain reduction system that sends a gentle electric current through electrodes placed on the skin. Hand or foot braces can help support weakened muscles.
Some patients may benefit from physical therapy to help improve mobility. Wellstar offers physical therapy at several convenient locations. Our skilled, licensed physical therapists develop individualized programs that meet specific patient needs. Ask your doctor if physical therapy could help ease the discomfort of your peripheral neuropathy.
Individuals with peripheral neuropathy can take steps such as the following to self-manage their condition.
Some patients report that alternative treatments help reduce symptoms:
Many of these have not been studied as thoroughly as traditional treatments.