Peripheral Neuropathy - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

By: peterhutch
Peripheral neuropathy is disorder of nerve(s) apart from the brain and spinal cord. Patients with peripheral neuropathy may have tingling, numbness, unusual sensations, weakness, or burning pain.

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.

Peripheral neuropathy is a problem with the functioning of the nerves outside of the spinal cord. Symptoms may include numbness, weakness, burning pain (especially at night), and loss of reflexes. Possible causes may include carpel tunnel syndrome, meralgia paresthetica, vitamin or nutritional deficiencies, and illnesses like diabetes, syphilis, AIDS, and kidney failure. Most causes of peripheral neuropathy can be successfully treated or prevented.

Causes

The nerve damage of peripheral neuropathy most commonly appears as a complication of another disorder such as diabetes or AIDS, or as a reaction to drugs or chemicals. Nerve damage can result from viral and bacterial infections, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, cancer, vitamin deficiencies, kidney disease, liver disease, or inherited conditions. Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include trauma, penetrating injuries, bruises, fractures, and dislocated bones. Nerve damage can also result from extended exposure to cold or heat, radiation therapy for cancer, excessive vomiting (which may occur during early pregnancy), and various other causes.

Peripheral neuropathy can sometimes be caused by HIV but is most commonly a side effect of drugs. Sometimes neuropathy can be caused by vitamin deficiencies or diabetes. Diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy is done by a physical exam. Tests of vitamin B12 levels, thyroid function and glucose levels are also used to check for vitamin deficiencies or diabetes. If peripheral neuropathy is caused by a drug, the symptoms usually get better once the drug is stopped, although it can take 6-8 weeks and the pain can actually get worse for a while.

No medical treatments exist that can cure inherited peripheral neuropathy. However, there are therapies for many other forms.? In general, adopting healthy habits -- such as maintaining optimal weight, avoiding exposure to toxins, following a physician-supervised exercise program, eating a balanced diet, correcting vitamin deficiencies, and limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption -- can reduce the physical and emotional effects of peripheral neuropathy.? Systemic diseases frequently require more complex treatments.

Drug Therapy

In general, drug therapy for peripheral neuropathy is individualized for each patient and depends upon a number of factors that your doctor will take into consideration such as your past and present medical history, extent of pain, other medications that you may be taking, presence of other serious comorbid conditions (such as kidney disease, liver disease) and history of drug allergies. Many of the drugs used to treat peripheral neuropathy are used "off-label", meaning that they are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of other specific conditions (not for peripheral neuropathy) but have been shown over time to be effective also for the treatment of peripheral neuropathy.

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