What is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy arises when there is damage to the peripheral nervous system, which are responsible for transmitting signals from your brain and spinal cord to the other parts of your body. This is different than your central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nerves branch off from there and go to the rest of the body. This condition affects the sensory nerves, which control what you feel, like temperature and pain. In addition to sensory neuropathy, there’s autonomic neuropathy, which affects the autonomic nerves. These nerves control your breathing and heartbeat.
There are different types of peripheral neuropathy. There are both polyneuropathy, which affects many nerves, and mononeuropathy, like carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects one nerve. These peripheral neuropathies are fairly common, especially in patients over 55.
What can cause peripheral neuropathy?
The causes of peripheral neuropathy can be diverse, and it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint them. It’s often associated with the following conditions.
- Diabetes:This is one of the most common causes. High blood sugar levels can damage nerves over time, especially in the legs and feet.
- Autoimmune diseases:Conditions like systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Guillain-Barré syndrome can all lead to peripheral neuropathy.
- Vitamin deficiencies:Deficiencies of vitamins B (such as B1, B6, and B12) and E can cause neuropathy.
- Exposure to toxins: Heavy metals, certain chemicals, and medications (especially those used for chemotherapy) can lead to peripheral neuropathy.
- Tumors: Both benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumors can develop on or press against nerves.
It’s also important to note that in some cases, the cause of peripheral neuropathy remains unknown, a condition known as idiopathic neuropathy.
What are the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, and how is it diagnosed?
Peripheral neuropathy can cause various symptoms because it can affect any nerve in the body. Some of the most common symptoms include the following.
- Sensory symptoms:Numbness, tingling, or prickling in the hands or feet that may also affect the legs and arms are examples of sensory complaints. Extreme touch sensitivity and even pain, which is frequently characterized as stabbing, burning, or freezing, can also occur.
- Motor symptoms:These include muscular wasting or paralysis, particularly in the feet and legs, making it difficult to walk or handle objects.
- Autonomic symptoms:These include issues with sweating, digestion, bladder control, and blood pressure. Constipation, diarrhea, or gastroparesis (a condition in which the stomach empties too slowly) may also be brought on by digestive system involvement.
To diagnose peripheral neuropathy, the process frequently entails several steps and is dependent on the patient’s symptoms as well as the presumed source of the neuropathy.
- Medical history and physical examination: The doctor may ask about any symptoms, food preferences, toxin exposure, familial histories of neurological problems, and other relevant health information. They will next perform a physical evaluation of the patient’s reflexes, strength, sensation, and balance to help them pinpoint the damaged nerves.
- Blood tests: Blood testing can detect symptoms of disorders that can cause peripheral neuropathy, such as vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, abnormal immune responses, and others.
- Electromyogram (EMG) and nerve conduction studies: These tests can be used to gauge the severity of nerve damage and measure the electrical activity in the muscles and nerves. Another option is a muscle and nerve ultrasound, but this is less common.
What are the treatment and aftercare options for peripheral neuropathy?
Symptom alleviation and curing the underlying cause are the major objectives of treatment for peripheral neuropathy. This may require managing diabetes, correcting vitamin deficiencies, or altering existing medication if it is exacerbating the illness. Physical therapy, pain management, and certain drugs, such as antidepressants or seizure medications, can all aid in symptom management.
Follow-up care often includes regular medical assessments, continuous symptom monitoring, and lifestyle adjustments like maintaining a nutritious diet, regular physical activity, and moderating alcohol intake. When mobility is compromised due to neuropathy, the use of assistive equipment or engagement in occupational therapy may be beneficial.
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