Peripheral Neuropathy

What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral Neuropathy occurs when peripheral nerves become diseased or damaged. These nerves are responsible for carrying messages from the brain and spinal cord to the various parts of the body and back again.

When the peripheral nerves are damaged, communication between the brain and the body is interrupted, so your muscle movement will be impaired, there will be pain, and you will be unable to experience normal sensations within the legs and arms.

Peripheral neuropathy can be the result of systemic illness, infection, inherited disorders, or injuries.

What are the Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy?

Common signs of peripheral neuropathy include:

  • Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the hands or feet
  • A loss of sensation within the legs or arms
  • Feeling as though you are wearing a tight sock or glove
  • Stabbing, sharp pain
  • Heavy feelings in the legs or arms
  • Shocking or buzzing sensations
  • Digestive difficulty, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Excessively sweating

You may also sense pain when there is nothing actually sending a pain signal, or you may not feel anything even if something is hurting you.

Peripheral Neuropathy Causes

Peripheral neuropathy has a multitude of causes, ranging from environmental factors to lifestyle and genetic causes. Exposure to toxins, specifically, some pesticides, as well as industrial chemicals, lead, mercury, arsenic, and thallium have been implicated as causative agents. Additionally, some diseases and chronic conditions can cause peripheral neuropathy. In a significant number of cases, diabetes mellitus has lead to the development of peripheral neuropathy. Other conditions have also been implicated, including chronic renal insufficiency and neuromas. Additionally, some cancers, as well as their treatment regimens, can lead to peripheral neuropathy. The toxicity in some chemotherapy regimens has been known to cause peripheral neuropathy as a side effect.

Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Guillain-Barre syndrome may also be risk factors. In addition, infections have been noted to cause peripheral neuropathy, including shingles, Epstein-Barr virus, HIV, Lyme disease, herpes simplex, and West Nile virus, among others. Lifestyle factors can also lead to peripheral neuropathy. Heavy alcohol use, as well as vitamin deficiencies, have been noted to cause this condition as well as repetitive stress, which can lead to compression injury. In regard to injuries, sudden trauma is also a causative factor. Some genetic factors can lead to peripheral neuropathy as well, including amyloid polyneuropathy and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

How is Peripheral Neuropathy Treated?

Once your doctor is able to determine the underlying cause of your peripheral neuropathy, he or she will be able to design a treatment plan that will target that cause.

Treatments can provide relief and allow you to return to normal activities, but you may need to approach this disorder with a combination of treatments. Options include pain medicine, prescription medications, transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation, and ergonomic splints or casts.

Peripheral Neuropathy Prevention

Given the numerous causative factors leading to peripheral neuropathy, there a number of steps that can be taken to help prevent it. In regard to environmental factors, taking care with toxic substances, especially compounds containing mercury, arsenic, lead, and thallium is essential. Also, avoiding inhaling toxic fumes is important in helping prevent peripheral neuropathy. Additionally, lifestyle changes can go a long way in not only preventing peripheral neuropathy itself, but also in helping head off any chronic conditions that can lead to its development. Reducing or eliminating alcohol, as well as using a vitamin supplement and making sure to have a healthy and varied diet are helpful strategies. Also, exercise can help in preventing metabolic conditions that can lead to peripheral neuropathy. Proper treatment of any metabolic or endocrine conditions such as diabetes can help prevent peripheral neuropathy as well. Finally, having vaccinations against infectious agents leading to peripheral neuropathy is a very effective method for prevention.