Peripheral neuropathy definition and facts

  • Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves in the peripheral nervous system become damaged.
  • Peripheral neuropathy symptoms and signs depend upon the cause. Usually, the disorder affects the nerves that provide sensation, which causes pain, tingling, and burning symptoms of the nerves affected.
  • Usually, peripheral neuropathy occurs in the feet and hands.
  • Many other diseases and conditions can cause peripheral neuropathy, for example, drugs, diabetes, shingles, kidney failure, and vitamin deficiency.
  • Peripheral neuropathy is diagnosed by exams, diagnostic and blood tests, and occasionally, skin biopsies.
  • The treatment for peripheral neuropathy depends on the cause; however, the prognosis for many of the diseases and other medical problems that cause peripheral neuropathy can be successfully treated or prevented.

What is peripheral neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is disorder of nerve(s) apart from the brain and spinal cord. Patients with peripheral neuropathy may have tingling, numbness, unusual sensations, weakness, or burning pain in the affected area. Oftentimes, the symptoms are symmetrical and involve both hands and feet. Because the symptoms are often present in the areas covered by gloves or stockings, peripheral neuropathy is often described as having a “glove and stocking” distribution of symptoms.

Peripheral neuropathy can involve different nerve types, including motor, sensory, and autonomic nerves. Peripheral neuropathy can also be categorized by the size of the nerve fibers involved, large, or small.

Neuropathy can present with many differing symptoms, including numbness, pain of different types, weakness, or loss of balance, depending on the type of nerve involved. Because the autonomic nerves control bodily functions that we do not consciously think of, such as heart rate, digestion, and emptying of the bowel and bladder, autonomic neuropathy manifests with symptoms affecting the loss of control of these functions. Symptoms may include problems with blood pressure, voiding, passage of stools (diarrhea, or constipation), heart rate, or sweating.

Cranial neuropathy is similar to peripheral neuropathy, except that the cranial nerves are involved. Any of the cranial nerves can be involved. One of the more common causes of cranial neuropathy is loss of blood flow from the optic artery to the optic nerve, causing ischemic optic neuropathy. Amyloidosis is one of the more common causes of this rare disorder.

Specific nerves can be involved in neuropathy. When a specific nerve is involved, the symptoms are limited to the distribution of that nerve. The most commonly involved peripheral nerve is the median nerve at the wrist in carpal tunnel syndrome. Essentially any peripheral nerve can become entrapped and cause the signs and symptoms of neuropathy. The ulnar nerve is commonly entrapped at the elbow. The peroneal nerve is exposed at the outer part of the knee. The pudendal nerve can cause pain in the perineum and is relieved by sitting on a toilet seat or an inflatable donut. Entrapment of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve at the waist, called meralgia paresthetica, causes numbness at the outer part of the thigh.