Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to the peripheral nervous system, which transmits information from the brain and spinal cord to every other part of the body and vice versa.

More than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy have been identified, each with its own characteristic set of symptoms, pattern of development, and prognosis. The types of problems perceived by a patient with peripheral neuropathy will depend on the type of nerves — motor, sensory, or autonomic — that are damaged. Some people may experience numbness, tingling, and pricking sensations, sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness. Others may suffer more extreme symptoms, including burning pain (especially at night), muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction. Peripheral neuropathy may be either inherited or acquired.

There are numerous causes for peripheral neuropathy including: (trauma) to a nerve, exposure to toxins, autoimmune diseases, nutritional deficiencies (such as Vitamin B12 deficiency), alcoholism, and metabolic disorders (such as diabetes). Acquired peripheral neuropathies are caused by systemic disease, trauma from external agents, or infections or autoimmune disorders affecting nerve tissue. If the specific cause for the neuropathy can be identified then there may be treatment to reverse the symptoms. Inherited forms of peripheral neuropathy are caused by inborn mistakes in the genetic code or by new genetic mutations and at present have no known therapies. Unfortunately at present as many as 50% of all neuropathies will have no identifiable cause.

Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms

Peripheral neuropathy is a descriptive term relating to any disease which damages the peripheral nervous system. These nerves transmit information from the brain and spinal cord to every other part of the body and vice versa. The types of problems perceived by a patient with peripheral neuropathy will depend on the type of nerves — motor, sensory, or autonomic — that are damaged. Some people may experience numbness, tingling, and pricking sensations, sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness. Balance problems can often be a symptom of peripheral neuropathies as well. Other patients may suffer more extreme symptoms, including burning pain (especially at night), paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction.

Peripheral Neuropathy Cause

Peripheral neuropathies may be inherited from one’s parents or occur as a result of an acquired disease during one’s life. There are hundreds of causes of peripheral neuropathy. The first step in trying to treat a patient’s peripheral neuropathy is to identify the cause. This is done by having a thorough general and neurologic examination. If there are symptoms to suggest a peripheral neuropathy then EMG/ Nerve Conduction Studies can be ordered. These tests allow a physician to study how a patient’s nerves are conducting electricity. Once a neuropathy is confirmed then a physician will usually order a number of blood tests to look for specific diseases which can cause neuropathy. If these tests are unrevealing then some patients will undergo a muscle and nerve biopsy which can reveal a cause for their peripheral neuropathy in some cases.

While some neuropathies have very unique features, many neuropathies will have similar symptoms and therefore even in the most sophisticated hands over 50% of patients will have no specific cause identified. These patients are then labeled as having an idiopathic neuropathy, each with its own characteristic set of symptoms, pattern of development, and prognosis.

The numerous causes for neuropathies include trauma to a nerve, exposure to toxins, autoimmune responses, nutritional deficiencies (such as Vitamin B12 deficiency), alcoholism, and metabolic disorders (such as diabetes).

Peripheral Neuropathy Treatment

No medical treatments exist that can cure inherited peripheral neuropathy. However, there are therapies for many other acquired forms. The specific treatment will depend on the cause for the neuropathy. In general, adopting healthy habits — such as maintaining optimal weight, avoiding exposure to toxins, following a physician-supervised exercise program, eating a balanced diet, correcting vitamin deficiencies, and limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption — can reduce the physical and emotional effects of peripheral neuropathy.

Even if no specific cause is identified there are numerous medications that we employ to help control a patient’s symptoms. While these drug treatments do not reverse the nerve damage they are very effective in terms of reducing the unpleasant sensory symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral Neuropathy Cure

If the specific cause for the neuropathy can be identified then there may be treatment to reverse the symptoms or even cure the peripheral neuropathy. Once the nerve disease is treated peripheral nerves will start to regrow. This process may take 6 months to several years but is very effective.

Inherited forms of peripheral neuropathy are caused by inborn mistakes in the genetic code or by new genetic mutations and at present have no known therapies.

Peripheral Neuropathy Research

Related publications by our physicians: