What is peripheral neuropathy?
The nerves outside of the brain and spinal
cord are the peripheral nervous system. A problem with the
nerves of the peripheral nervous system is called peripheral
neuropathy or nerve palsy. Peripheral nerves connect your
brain and spinal cord to your muscles and allow you to move
your muscles. They also conduct feelings such as pain,
temperature, touch, and limb position from the surface of
your body to your brain. The nerves connecting to internal
organs that allow involuntary actions such as breathing,
sexual function, and digestion are also part of the
peripheral nervous system.
How does it occur?
Peripheral neuropathy can have many
different causes. Anything that interferes with the function
of a nerve can lead to neuropathy. Some common causes are:
direct injury to the nerve (for
instance, after you hit your elbow and your arm tingles
down to your hand)
pressure put on a nerve by swelling in
the tissues around it (carpal tunnel syndrome is an
diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, or
infections (usually viral, for example,
infections by the herpes virus)
a lack of vitamins or minerals.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy depend
on which nerves are damaged and the function of the damaged
Nerves that help you move your muscles
are called motor nerves. If motor nerves are damaged,
you may have muscle weakness.
Nerves that conduct feelings, such as
touch, are called sensory nerves. When these nerves are
affected, you may have numbness, tingling, pain, or
extreme sensitivity to touch.
The nerves connecting to internal organs
are called the autonomic nervous system. Depending on
what organs are affected, you may have vision problems,
dizziness, problems with digestion, bloating,
constipation, diarrhea, leaking of urine from the
bladder, or incomplete bladder emptying.
How is it diagnosed?
Your health care provider will ask about
your symptoms and medical history and will examine you. You
may have a nerve conduction test to check the function of
specific nerves. You may have other tests.
How is it treated?
The treatment of peripheral neuropathy
depends on the cause. For example:
If the problem happens after you had a
fall or something hit you, it usually goes away on its
own and no specific treatment is needed.
If it is caused by diabetes, the
treatment is focused on better control of the diabetes.
If the cause is a vitamin deficiency,
your provider may prescribe vitamin supplements.
The symptoms of neuropathy can be treated
with medicines that decrease nerve conduction. For example,
gabapentin (Neurontin) can help relieve pain.
Other possible treatments for chronic nerve
biofeedback (a method of controlling
your body's responses with your mind)
electronic nerve stimulation devices
shots of local anesthetics, steroids, or
other chemicals to block pain signals or decrease
in severe cases, surgery to cut the
nerve causing the pain.
How long will the effects last?
Peripheral neuropathy caused by an injury
usually lasts from a few days to several weeks, depending on
the injury. Neuropathy due to diabetes and other chronic
diseases tends to not go away completely, but it may improve
with treatment of the underlying problem. Neuropathy caused
by a viral infection is less predictable. It may or may not
go away with time. How can I take care of myself?
If the cause of your neuropathy is a
disease, such as diabetes, the best way to take care of
yourself is to follow your health care provider's advice and
take your medicines as prescribed. If the cause of your
neuropathy is an injury, the best thing you can do is to try
to protect that body part from further injury.
How can I help prevent neuropathy?
Sometimes it is hard to avoid injuries that
cause neuropathy. If it is caused by a disease, proper
treatment of the disease is the best means of prevention.
Follow your health care provider's advice and take your
medicines as prescribed.
For more information contact the Neuropathy
Association at 713-862-9332 or visit their Web site: