Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that can cause weakness, numbness, and pain in the extremities. In severe cases, it can lead to paralysis. Although peripheral neuropathy can be caused by many different conditions, it is most often seen in people with diabetes. How bad can peripheral neuropathy get depends on the underlying cause, how well the condition is managed, and how early it is diagnosed. In general, however, the prognosis for people with peripheral neuropathy is good. With proper treatment, most people are able to manage their symptoms and live relatively normal lives.
What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a term used to describe the effects of damage or illness on nerves that transmit messages from and to the brain and spinal cord, as well as messages from and to the rest of the body.
Peripheral nerves are a complex web that connects the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, skin, and internal organs. Peripheral nerves emerge from the spinal cord and are distributed in dermatomes on the body’s surface. Damage to a nerve typically affects one or more dermatomes, which can be identified by their locations on the body. Communication between the brain and other regions of the body is disrupted when these nerves are damaged, resulting in muscular weakness, limb numbness or tingling, and discomfort.
Types Of Peripheral Neuropathy
There are several distinct types of peripheral neuropathies, some of which are caused by various factors. They range from carpal tunnel syndrome (a traumatic injury that often occurs after years of constant usage of the hands and wrists, such as with computer use) to nerve damage induced by diabetes.
Peripheral neuropathies are quite common, affecting about 3% to 4% of those over the age of 55 as a whole. Collectively, the disorders afflict up to 3% of individuals in this category.
Neuropathies are often defined according to the issues they cause or what is causing the damage. There are also words that express how widespread the nerve damage has been.
Mononeuropathy means that a single nerve is damaged. It can be caused by trauma, entrapment (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), or compression (as seen in ulnar nerve damage at the elbow).
Polyneuropathy indicates that many nerves are involved, and it is often caused by systemic illnesses such as diabetes, infections, or autoimmune disorders. Diabetic neuropathy is the most common form of polyneuropathy.
Neuritis refers to inflammation of the nerves and is often used interchangeably with the term “neuropathy.” It can result from viral infections (such as shingles), physical injury, or exposure to certain chemicals.
Neurotoxicity occurs when toxic substances damage the nerves. This can be caused by medications (such as chemotherapy drugs), alcohol, or heavy metals (such as lead).
Symptoms Of Peripheral Neuropathy
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy vary depending on the type of nerve damage. They may develop gradually or suddenly, and they can range from mild to severe.
Common symptoms include:
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of coordination
- Pain or neuropathy cramps, especially at night
- Sensitivity to touch, heat, or cold
- Difficulty walking or standing
- Digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhea
- Sexual dysfunction
Causes Of Peripheral Neuropathy
Toxins, trauma, disease, or infection are all possible causes of acquired neuropathies. Following is a list of known causes of acquired neuropathies:
- Autoimmune diseases: Celiac disease, Guillain-Barré syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis
- Cancer: Chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy
- Infections: Epstein-Barr virus, Lyme disease, shingles (herpes zoster), syphilis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Nutritional deficiencies: B vitamins (especially vitamin B1 or thiamine), vitamin E
- Pregnancy: Preeclampsia/eclampsia, diabetes mellitus
- Trauma: Physical injury (including surgery), carpal tunnel syndrome
- Exposure to heavy metals or other toxins: Alcoholism, lead poisoning
- Certain medications: Chemotherapy drugs, some antibiotics, some heart medications, isoniazid
- Diabetes: The most common cause of peripheral neuropathy
Hereditary neuropathies are less frequent. Hereditary peripheral nerve disorders are genetically transmitted diseases. Type 1 of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is the most prevalent. It is characterized by loss of strength in the legs and, to a lesser extent, the arms, featuring symptoms that usually emerge between mid-childhood and age 30. This illness is caused by deterioration of the insulation that surrounds nerves and helps them conduct electrical impulses necessary for muscular movement generation.
Risk Factors For Peripheral Neuropathy
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing motor peripheral neuropathy. These include:
- Advanced age
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Family history of neuropathy
- Kidney disease
- Certain infections, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C
- Prior chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Trauma or injury to the nerves
How Bad Can Peripheral Neuropathy Get?
The severity of peripheral neuropathy symptoms can range from mild to severe. In some cases, people may only experience a tingling sensation in their extremities. In others, the condition may cause paralysis.
The prognosis for people with peripheral neuropathy depends on many factors, including the underlying cause, how well the condition is managed, and how early it is diagnosed. In general, however, the outlook is good. With proper treatment, most people are able to manage their symptoms and live relatively normal lives.
If you have any concerns about your health, please consult with your doctor.
How To Prevent Neuropathy?
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for peripheral neuropathy. The best prevention of neuropathy depends on the underlying cause, as well as the severity and frequency of symptoms.
In general, however, treatments for peripheral neuropathy aim to relieve pain, improve quality of life, and prevent further nerve damage.
Depending on the cause of your condition, treatments for peripheral neuropathy may include:
- Medications: Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, pain relievers
- Vitamins: B vitamins (especially vitamin B1 or thiamine), vitamin E
- Exercise: Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, or stretching
- Physical therapy: Massage, heat or cold therapy, electrical stimulation
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the nerves
- Supportive care: braces or other devices to support weak muscles, counseling to help deal with the emotional impact of living with a chronic condition
When to Seek Medical Care?
If you are experiencing any symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, it is important to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve your chances of managing the condition and preventing further nerve damage.
The Bottom Line
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that causes nerve damage. The severity of symptoms can range from mild to severe, and the condition can be either temporary or permanent. Treatment for peripheral neuropathy depends on the underlying cause, as well as the severity and frequency of symptoms. In most cases, however, the outlook is good. With proper treatment, most people are able to manage their symptoms and live relatively normal lives.