Peripheral Neuropathy

The name of the condition tells you a bit about what it is:

•Peripheral: Beyond (in this case, beyond the brain and the spinal cord.)
•Neuro-: Related to the nerves
•-pathy: Disease

Peripheral Neuropathy means: It refers to the conditions that result when nerves that connect to the brain and spinal cord from the rest of the body are damaged or diseased.

The peripheral nerves make up an intricate network that connects the brain & spinal cord to the muscles, skin, and internal organs. Peripheral nerves come out of the spinal cord and are arranged along lines in the body called Dermatomes. Typically, damage to a nerve will affect one or more Dermatomes, which can be tracked to specific areas of the body. Damage to these nerves interrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body and can impair muscle movement, prevent normal sensation in the arms and legs, and cause pain.

Peripheral Neuropathy describes damage to the peripheral nervous system, the vast communications network that transmits information from the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) to every other part of the body. Peripheral nerves also send sensory information back to the brain and spinal cord, such as a message that the feet are cold or a finger is burned. Damage to the peripheral nervous system interferes with these vital connections. Like static on a telephone line, peripheral Neuropathy distorts and sometimes interrupts messages between the brain and the rest of the body. Because every peripheral nerve has a highly specialized function in a specific part of the body, a wide array of symptoms can occur when nerves are damaged. Some people may experience temporary numbness, tingling, and pricking sensations (Paresthesia), 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.

Symptoms

  • A tingling sensation in the toes or in the balls of the feet that eventually spreads up the legs toward the trunk. Less commonly, the sensation may begin in the hands and spread up the arms.
  • Numbness in the hands and feet that spreads up the arms and legs.
  • Weakness or heaviness in muscles throughout the body. This may be accompanied by cramping, especially in the feet, legs, and hands.
  • Sensitive skin that may be painful to the touch; prickling, burning, tingling, or sharp stabbing sensations may occur spontaneously and usually worsen at night.
  • Foot drop, a condition in which it is difficult to lift the front of one or both feet.
  • Difficulty walking and/or problems with balance or coordination

There are several kinds of peripheral neuropathy that stem from a variety of causes. They range from carpal tunnel syndrome (an injury common after chronic repetitive use of the hands and wrists, such as computer use) to Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare, sudden paralysis).

As a group, peripheral neuropathies are common, especially among people over the age of 55. All together, the conditions affect 3% to 4% of people in this group.

Neuropathies are typically classified according to the problems they cause or what is at the root of the damage. There also are terms that express how extensively the nerves have been damaged.

Resources

Resources

  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  • National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892

Treatments

  • No medical treatments exist that can cure inherited peripheral neuropathy.
  • However, there are therapies for many other forms.
    • Maintaining optimal weight,
    • avoiding exposure to toxins,
    • following a physician-supervised exercise program,
    • eating a balanced diet,
    • correcting vitamin deficiencies,
    • limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption
    • Systemic diseases frequently require more complex treatments.

What is the prognosis?

  • In acute neuropathies, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, symptoms appear suddenly, progress rapidly, and resolve slowly as damaged nerves heal.
  • In chronic forms, symptoms begin subtly and progress slowly.
  • Some people may have periods of relief followed by relapse.
  • Others may reach a plateau stage where symptoms stay the same for many months or years.
  • Some chronic neuropathies worsen over time, but very few forms prove fatal unless complicated by other diseases.

* Occasionally the neuropathy is a symptom of another disorder.

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