Peripheral neuropathy, a result of nerve damage, often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in your hands and feet, but it may also occur in other areas of your body.
People generally describe the pain of peripheral neuropathy as tingling or burning, while they may compare the loss of sensation to the feeling of wearing a thin stocking or glove.
Peripheral neuropathy can result from problems such as traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems and exposure to toxins. One of the most common causes is diabetes.
In many cases, peripheral neuropathy symptoms improve with time, especially if the condition is caused by an underlying condition that can be treated. A number of medications are used to reduce the painful symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
The nerves of your peripheral nervous system send information from your brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) to all other parts of your body and back again.
Nerves that may be affected by peripheral neuropathy include:
Most commonly, peripheral neuropathy starts in the longest nerves, which are the nerves that reach to your toes. Symptoms vary, depending on which types of nerves are affected. Signs and symptoms may include:
Peripheral neuropathy may affect one nerve (mononeuropathy), two or more nerves in different areas (multiple mononeuropathy) or many nerves (polyneuropathy).
When to see a doctor
If your symptoms interfere with your sleep or you feel depressed, your doctor or pain specialist may be able to suggest treatments that can help.
It's not always easy to pinpoint the cause of peripheral neuropathy because a number of factors can cause neuropathies. These factors include:
Peripheral neuropathy risk factors include:
Complications of peripheral neuropathy may include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, you may then be referred to a doctor trained in nervous system disorders (neurologist).
To make the most of your appointment time, it's a good idea to arrive prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and to know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For peripheral neuropathy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Peripheral neuropathy isn't a single disease, but rather a symptom with many potential causes. For that reason it can be difficult to diagnose. Your doctor will need to determine where the nerve damage is and what's causing it.
Diagnosis usually requires:
Your doctor may order tests, including:
Treatments and drugs
One goal of treatment is to manage the condition causing your neuropathy. If the underlying cause is corrected, the neuropathy often improves on its own. Another goal of treatment is to relieve the painful symptoms.
People with certain inflammatory conditions may benefit from procedures such as plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin, which help suppress immune system activity.
In plasma exchange, your blood is removed, a machine removes immune cells from your blood, and your blood is returned to your body. In immune globulin therapy, you're given high levels of proteins that work as antibodies (immunoglobulins), which can help reduce your immune system's activity.
Try using hand or foot braces to help support your movement if you have muscle weakness. You may also need physical therapy to improve your movements.
If you have neuropathies caused by pressure on nerves, such as pressure from tumors, you may need surgery to reduce pressure on your nerves.
A procedure using infrared therapy may help improve sensation in the feet of people with diabetes. Researchers are studying the effects of infrared therapy and a therapy that uses magnetic foot soles to improve neuropathy in people with diabetes.
Lifestyle and home remedies
The following suggestions can help you manage peripheral neuropathy:
Some people with peripheral neuropathy try complementary and alternative treatments for relief of their symptoms. Although researchers haven't studied these techniques as thoroughly as they have most medications, the following therapies have shown some promise:
Manage underlying conditions
Make healthy lifestyle choices
For example, nerve damage is common if you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency. The best food sources of vitamin B-12 are meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy foods and fortified cereals. If you're a strict vegetarian, fortified cereals are a good source of vitamin B-12 for you, but you may also want to talk to your doctor about B-12 supplements.
Regular exercise also is important. If possible, try to get at least 30 minutes to one hour of exercise at least three times a week.
Be aware of factors that may cause nerve damage. Avoid these activities and environmental factors as much as possible:
Last Updated: 2013-08-13
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