Peripheral Neuropathy

Also known as: peripheral nerve damage.

What is peripheral neuropathy?

The peripheral nerves are the vast network of nerves that transmits messages from the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to the rest of the body. When these nerves don’t function normally it is known as a peripheral neuropathy.

What causes peripheral neuropathy?

Causes of peripheral neuropathy include:

  1. Congenital inherited abnormalities, and/or gene abnormalities

  2. Acquired problems like hormone deficiencies (for example diabetes), kidney disorders, neuroinfections, neuroinflammation, toxins and drugs, vitamin deficiencies, and accidents or injuries that pull or stretch nerves.

What are the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy?

There are a large number of types of peripheral neuropathy, each presenting with its own set of signs and symptoms. In broad outline they can be classified as those involving movement (Motor neuropathy), Sensory neuropathy. Autonomic nerve neuropathy and Combination neuropathy where symptoms include two or three of the other types.

Symptoms vary depending on the type of neuropathy but common ones include:

  • Burning, tingling, prickling sensation or sharp pains (frequently in the hands or feet)
  • Numbness, loss of feeling
  • Increased sensitivity to touch, pain or temperature
  • Muscle weakness, cramps or twitching
  • Emotional or sleep disturbances
  • Poor reflexes
  • Difficulty with balance or coordination and walking and in more serious situations
  • Paralysis

Autonomic neuropathy may present with poor sweating, poor bladder control, a non stable blood pressure, fainting, eating and swallowing difficulties, gastrointestinal symptom, irregular heartbeat and problems breathing.

What are peripheral neuropathy care options?

For neuropathy associated with a disease process, treating the disease will improve or prevent it from getting worse. Over-the-counter pain medications, local anesthetic injections, other prescription medicines depending on the underlying problem, regular exercise, stretching or bracing the hand or foot, physical therapy or occupational therapy may be beneficial.

For severe pain, surgery to remove or repair an injured nerve may be necessary.

Can peripheral neuropathy be prevented?

While peripheral neuropathy can sometimes have genetic causes, there are some lifestyle choices people can make to help prevent the condition or delay its onset. For example, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly are all key contributors in reducing your risk. Avoiding alcohol or vitamin deficiencies are also important steps.
If you have diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease or other chronic health conditions that contribute to peripheral neuropathy risk, you’ll want to work closely with your health care provider to manage these conditions. This can also help delay the onset of peripheral neuropathy.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: December 15, 2023 05:37 PM