Peripheral Neuropathy – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
What is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral nerves go from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body including hands, legs, and feet. They carry signals to and from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.
Peripheral neuropathy refers to a group of disorders that occurs due to damage to a single nerve or a group of nerves. This disorder can affect nerves in any part of the body.
Neuropathy is very common.
What causes peripheral neuropathy?
There are many causes of peripheral neuropathy. In many cases, no cause can be found. Some nerve diseases are hereditary.
Diabetes is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy. The following other health conditions may also cause neuropathy:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Infections such as HIV/AIDS, shingles, hepatitis C
- Metabolic diseases
- Low levels of vitamin B1, B6, B12, or other vitamins
- Toxicity from heavy metals, such as lead
- Underactive thyroid gland
- Bone marrow disorders
- Impaired blood flow to the legs
- Certain inherited disorders
The following factors can also lead to nerve damage:
- Trauma to a nerve
- Pressure on a nerve
- Chronic heavy alcohol intake
- Glue, mercury, and solvent toxicity
- Medicine that treats infections, cancer, seizures, and high blood pressure
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Pressure from bad-fitting casts, splints, a brace, or crutches
- Exposure to cold temperatures for a long period of time
What are the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy?
Symptoms vary greatly depending on which nerve is damaged, and whether the damage affects one nerve, several nerves, or the whole body.
The following types of symptoms may occur:
Pain and Numbness
Tingling or burning sensation in the arms and legs may be an early sign of nerve damage. These sensations mostly start in the toes and feet. There may be a deep pain in the feet and legs.
There may be numbness or loss of sensation in the legs and arms. When this happens, you may not notice when you step on something sharp. You may not notice when you touch something that is too hot or cold, like the water in a bathtub. You may not know when you have a small blister or sore on your feet. Due to numbness, you may not be able to know where your feet are moving and may lead to loss of balance.
Nerve damage can make it harder to control muscles and can also cause muscle weakness. You may find it difficult to move a part of your body. One of your legs may buckle leading to a fall. You may trip over your toes.
Your muscles may twitch or cramp. Your muscles may become smaller. Doing small things like buttoning a shirt may be harder.
Problem with body organs
Damage to the nerve in the digestive system may lead to many problems. Difficulty digesting food, feeling full or bloated and heartburn after eating only a little food are some of the problems. Some people find it had to swallow food.
Damage to the nerves of your heart may cause you to feel lightheaded, or faint when you stand up. You may not feel angina when it occurs. Angina is the warning chest pain of heart disease and heart attack. Nerve damage may “hide” this warning sign. You should learn other warning signs of a heart attack. They are sudden fatigue, sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting.
The following are the other symptoms of nerve damage:
- Sexual problems. Men may have problems with erections. Women may have trouble with vaginal dryness or orgasm.
- Some people may not be able to tell when their blood sugar gets too low.
- Bladder problems. You may leak urine. You may not be able to tell when your bladder is full. Some people are not able to empty their bladder.
- You may sweat too little or too much. This may cause problems controlling your body temperature.
How is peripheral neuropathy diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a physical examination and review your symptoms and medical history. The doctor may order some blood tests to find out the causes of nerve damage.
The doctor may also recommend following tests for diagnosis:
- Electromyography to check activity in muscles
- Nerve conduction studies to check how fast signals travel along nerves
- Nerve biopsy
How is peripheral neuropathy treated?
The doctor may recommend controlling blood sugar if you are a diabetic, stop drinking alcohol, and change some medicines to help improve your symptoms.
Replacing a vitamin or making other changes in your diet may help. If you have low levels of B12 or other vitamins, your doctor may recommend supplements or injections.
The doctor may recommend therapy to learn exercises to improve muscle strength and control. Wheelchairs, braces, and splints may improve movement or the ability to use an arm or leg that has nerve damage.
If the cause of the never damage is diagnosed, the doctor may treat the cause to improve your symptoms.
The doctor may recommend surgery to remove pressure from a nerve.
Treatment For Pain
Medicines can help reduce pain in the feet, legs, and arms. They usually do not bring back the loss of feeling. Your doctor may prescribe pain pills or drugs that treat seizures or depression, which can also manage pain.
If the pain is not improved with medical treatment, your doctor may refer you to a pain specialist.
Treatment For Other Symptoms
The doctor will formulate an appropriate treatment plan to help improve other symptoms, such as digestive problems, bladder problems, sex problems, and other problems.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.