The peripheral nervous system has the function of connecting the nerves from the brain and the spinal cord, or from the central nervous system to the rest of the body, which includes the arms, the hands, the legs, the feet, the internal organs, as well as the mouth and the face. Such nerves have the function of sending signals regarding physical sensations back to the brain.
Peripheral neuropathy is considered to be a disorder that happens in cases where the nerves malfunction due to damage to them. This can damage the way that the nerves function normally. They might also send signals of pain if there is nothing causing pain or if they don’t send a pain signal even in cases where you’re suffering damage. This can be the case due to an infection, due to an inherited disorder, due to an injury, or a systemic illness. It is a disorder that is very uncomfortable, however, treatments for it can be very helpful. One of the most important factors in treating peripheral neuropathy is finding out whether a serious underlying condition is causing it.
Out of 100 different types of peripheral neuropathy, each presents itself with unique symptoms and comes with a specific treatment option. Peripheral neuropathy is classified by the type of nerve that is damaged. For example. Mononeuropathy is a condition where only one nerve is damaged. Polyneuropathy, on the other hand, is a disorder that leads to damage of multiple nerves and is also more common.
What symptoms does peripheral neuropathy lead to?
Three types of peripheral nerves include autonomic nerves, motor nerves, and sensory nerves. The sensory nerves connect to the skin, motor nerves to the muscles, while autonomic nerves connect to the internal organs. Peripheral neuropathy can affect either one of these groups or all three at the same time. Tingling in the feet and hands, a feeling as if you’re wearing a sock or tight glove, a sharp and stabbing pain, diarrhea, constipation, digestive difficulty, sexual dysfunction, thinning of the skin, a weak and heavy feeling in the arms or legs, regularly dropping things from the hands, a shocking sensation or a buzzing sensation, a drop in blood pressure or excessive sweating are all symptoms of this condition. All these symptoms can however also be an indicator of another condition.
What causes peripheral neuropathy?
Those who have a family member that has suffered from peripheral neuropathy are also at a higher chance of also developing the disorder. There are however several other underlying conditions or factors which might lead to this condition.
For example, nerve-damaged caused by diabetes is considered to be one of the most common types of neuropathy. It leads to pain, numbness, and a loss of sensation in the extremities. Some factors increase the risk of suffering from it, such as having diabetes, having high blood pressure, being overweight, and at the age of over 40.
Other chronic conditions that might lead to nerve damage include hypothyroidism, kidney disorders, diseases that cause chronic inflammation, or a deficiency of vitamins E, B-1, B-6, and B-12, which are vitamins that are essential to the functioning of the nerves and nerve health.
Physical trauma is also one of the most common causes of injuries to the nerves. It can include car accidents, fractures, and falls. Inactivity or holding one position for too long can also lead to neuropathy. If there is increased pressure on the median nerve, which is the nerve in the wrist that supplies the movement to the hand, can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. It is one of the most common types of peripheral neuropathy.
Alcohol can also have a toxic effect on the nerve tissue, as well as putting people with severe alcoholism at a higher risk of peripheral neuropathy. Exposure to toxic chemicals such as solvents, insecticides, and glue, through chemical abuse or in the workplace, can also lead to nerve damage. Being exposed to heavy metals such as mercury and lead can also lead to this condition.
There are also several viruses and bacteria which can begin attacking the nerve issue. Some viruses include the Epstein-Barr virus, herpes simplex, or varicella-zoster virus. A bacterial infection such as HIV or AIDS and Lyme disease can also cause peripheral neuropathy. Some autoimmune conditions can increase the risk of suffering from peripheral neuropathy, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The nerves can also be damaged by certain medications, such as medications that are used to treat cancer, some blood pressure medications, drugs that are used to fight bacterial infections, and anticonvulsants, which are taken to treat seizures.
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How is peripheral neuropathy diagnosed?
Your doctor will first perform a physical exam and ask you about your medical history. If your doctor still needs further testing to diagnose the condition, you might need to get an MRI or CT scan, a blood test, or a nerve biopsy.
Electromyography can also be used to show issues with how the body functions in sending nerve signals to the muscles.
During a nerve conduction study, the doctor will place electrodes on the skin. It is a procedure that might be considered slightly uncomfortable, however afterward it shouldn’t hurt.
How is peripheral neuropathy treated?
Treating peripheral neuropathy depends on what is the underlying factor that is causing it. In cases where diabetes is the cause, it is important to make certain changes, so that the blood glucose is controlled. In cases where vitamin deficiency is the cause of the problem, it is important to correct that deficiency. There are a lot of treatments that can bring relief and can help you to go back to your regular activities. In most cases, a combination of treatments can work best.
there are also a lot of over-the-counter pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen, that can help to control moderate pain. If you take such medications in excess, however, it can affect the function of the liver and stomach.
Prescription pain medications can also help to control the pain that this condition leads to. This also includes antidepressants, antiepileptic medicines, and narcotics.
The doctor might also use different medical treatments to help you control the symptoms of this condition. Plasmapheresis is a blood transfusion that can remove antibodies that might irritate you from the bloodstream.
Although transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation doesn’t work in all cases, there are a lot of people who can profit from it as a drug-free therapy. Some patients profit from using ergonomic casts and splints as this can help especially if the neuropathy affects the hands, arms, legs, and feet.
Such casts can help and provide support for the area of the body that is hurting.
In addition to all such medical treatments, there are a lot of self-care options that can help, such as yoga, meditation, chiropractic care, massages, and acupuncture. Moderate and regular exercise can also help as it lessens discomfort. If you are someone who drinks and smokes, it is important to cut back or stop altogether, as both tobacco and alcohol can trigger nerve pain only further.
Quitting smoking and drinking is also a way of preventing peripheral neuropathy, as well as following a healthy diet and exercising regularly and moderately.
The information on this website is to provide general information. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive treatment advice. It is essential to consult a best-in-class pain management specialist in New York regarding ANY questions or issues. A thorough evaluation should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call your pain doctor to schedule a consultation.
Dr. Raj Raval, M.D.
- Board Certified
- Interventional Pain & Musculoskeletal Medicine Specialist
Education & training
- SUNY Downstate PMR Residency
- Rutgers University Fellowship