Peripheral Neuropathy

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Peripheral Neuropathy


Peripheral neuropathy is a painful and often debilitating condition that affects an estimated 30 million people in the United States. The most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes; however, peripheral neuropathy is not caused by just one disease. There are more than 100 different types of peripheral neuropathy, and numerous health conditions can cause it, including: 

  • Diabetes

  • Kidney, liver, or thyroid disorders

  • Side effects of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or medications 

  • Exposure to toxins, heavy metals, pesticides

  • Infections and autoimmune disorders

  • Inherited diseases

  • Repetitive motions

  • Injuries

  • Surgery

  • Alcoholism


Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms


The peripheral nerves send sensory, motor, and autonomic nerve signals from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. Sensory nerves receive sensations such as pain, touch, and temperature, while motor nerves control muscle movement, and the autonomic nerves control those functions that we do unconsciously, such as heart rate, sweating, and breathing.


Peripheral neuropathy results from damage to the nerve cells, and symptoms include weakness, numbness, and pain. Most people experience symptoms in the arms, hands, legs, and feet, but neuropathy can also affect other areas of the body. Generally, the farther the nerves and vessels are from the body's core (i.e., heart), the smaller they are and more susceptible to injury. 


Peripheral neuropathy results in nerves not functioning appropriately. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating and may include:


  • Pain in the arms, hands, legs, or feet

  • Burning, stabbing, or electric-shock sensations

  • Tingling

  • Numbness 

  • Muscle cramping or twitching

  • Feeling of tightness or stiffness

  • Feeling of heat or cold in the hands or feet

  • Insensitivity to pain or temperature

  • Loss of balance or coordination

  • Sensitivity to even the lightest touch


Diabetic Neuropathy


One of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. Nearly 50% of adults diagnosed with diabetes will experience peripheral neuropathy during their lifetime.


Diabetic neuropathy results from a combination of factors. When blood sugar levels are higher than normal for extended periods, it can result in excess blood sugar in the tissue, which damages both nerves and the related blood vessels.   Diabetic neuropathy tends to evolve over many years.  Many patients ignore the initial symptoms, which will become more severe over time if left untreated:


  • Stage 1: Occasional tingling, pain, or numbness is experienced in the arms, hands, legs, or feet

  • Stage 2: Pain or tingling becomes more frequent and more intense.

  • Stage 3: Pain peaks. Patients experience shooting pain and burning sensations regularly. 

  • Stage 4: Numbness. The affected areas become numb, resulting from the decreased blood flow and damage to the nerves. At this point, patients may develop diabetic ulcers or have problems with wounds that won't heal. 

  • Stage 5: Eventually, if left untreated, all sensation is impacted, and the patient may not be able to detect pain at all. Patients have trouble walking and balancing and are at greater risk for falls, ulcers, wounds, gangrene, and amputations.


Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy


Idiopathic is a term used when there is no known cause for neuropathy. Idiopathic neuropathy can progress over time like diabetic neuropathy, or it may remain at the same level of intensity after its initial onset. However, most patients experience numbness, pain, and tingling in the arms, hands, legs, or feet. Some experience more severe symptoms such as burning pain, cramping, or muscle weakness. In more extreme cases, patients have trouble with walking, standing, balance, and coordination.  

If you have any questions regarding Peripheral Neuropathy: 

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If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or go the nearest emergency room immediately. If it is not a medical emergency, please call your physicians’ office.