Understanding Peripheral Neuropathy

Understanding Peripheral Neuropathy

What is peripheral neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is related to the peripheral nervous system that sends sensory messages to the central nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the nerves carrying messages from the brain and the spinal cord to the rest of the body get damaged. In simple words, the periphery nerves pass on information between our brain and the rest of the body. Any damage or disease that affects these nerves discontinues the communication between the brain and the body. This can cause pain, loss of sensation, impaired muscle movement and weakness of muscles.

Read to learn more about peripheral neuropathy, its causes, and its treatment. 

What are the Categories of Peripheral Neuropathy?

Different types of peripheral neuropathy occur due to various reasons. A few of them are listed below:

  • Carpel tunnel syndrome:

It is a condition where the nerves in the wrist get compressed or crushed.

  • Ulnar nerve palsy:

In this condition, the nerve that is close to the skin's surface at the elbow gets damaged and causes numbness and weakness in the hand.

  • Peroneal nerve palsy:

When the fibular nerve or the nerve at the top of our calf on the knee is compressed, it causes peroneal nerve palsy.

  • Bell's palsy:

This condition is characterized by a sudden weakness in the muscles on one side of the face. It causes the face to appear drooped.

  • Postherpetic neuralgia:

This condition is caused due to a complication of the shingles. Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chicken pox. Shingles cause pain and a rash on one side of the body. Once the rash goes away, the pain remains. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia.

  • Brachial neuropathy:

This condition affects the chest, shoulders, arms, and hands. It affects one side of the body.

  • Guillain Barre syndrome:

It causes weakness of limb and facial muscles. If not taken emergency treatment, could lead to life risk and death.

What are the Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy?

Neuropathy typically occurs due to three factors. These are:

Acquired neuropathies:

These are caused due to an illness, an infection, or trauma. Examples of acquired neuropathies are:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Liver disease
  • Certain cancers & Cancer Medications
  • Lyme disease
  • Shingles
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Alcoholism
  • Toxins

Hereditary neuropathies:

These are passed on from parents to the child through genes. The most common example of hereditary neuropathy is:

  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT): This neuropathy affects the motor and sensory nerves. Its symptoms are poor hand coordination, difficulty lifting the foot, and maintaining balance.

Idiopathic neuropathies:

These neuropathies occur due to unknown causes. The symptoms are numbness, tingling, burning sensation, pain, muscle weakness, and lack of coordination.

How is Peripheral Neuropathy Diagnosed?

For a thorough diagnosis of neuropathy, the doctor will conduct a

  • Neurological exam to check muscle strength, reflexes, reactions to sensations, and coordination and posture.
  • Medical history to understand a lifestyle, family history of neurological diseases, and exposure to toxic substances and alcohol.

Besides these, a doctor will advise the following tests:

  • Blood tests:

These will help check for diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, immune function abnormalities, and any indications of illness or infection that could cause neuropathy.

  • Imaging tests:

A CT Scan and an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to help check for pinched nerves, tumors, and herniated discs.

  • Nerve function tests:

An Electromyography (EMG) checks the electrical activity in the muscles and detects any nerve damage.

A sensory test records how we feel touch, vibration, and temperature.

  • Nerve biopsy:

In this test, a small part of the nerve will be removed to check for abnormalities.

  • Skin biopsy:

In this test, a small part of the skin will be removed to check for a reduction in the nerve endings.

The goal behind the treatment of neuropathy (primary) is managing the condition causing neuropathy and providing relief from the symptoms. Your doctor will observe your condition to see if it improves, based on which they will create a treatment plan.

What are the Complications Associated with Peripheral Neuropathy?

The damage caused by neuropathy causes the following complications:

  • Injuries and infections due to loss of sensation and numbness
  • Gangrene and amputation due to such infections
  • Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy affects how a body controls blood circulation and heartbeat.
  • Digestive problems like heartburn, nausea, bloating, and lack of appetite
  • Deformity in the joints and bones in the feet or legs
  • Loss of bladder control

What are the risk factors associated with peripheral neuropathy?

The risk factors of peripheral neuropathy are:

  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Diabetes, in case of uncontrolled glucose levels
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Kidney and liver disorders
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Infections, such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, and Lyme disease
  • Misuse of alcohol
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Family history of peripheral neuropathy

What can be done to Prevent Peripheral Neuropathy?

Managing health conditions that increase the risk of neuropathy is crucial for the prevention of neuropathy Here's how we can stay safe:

  • Manage diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Quit smoking and alcohol
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to keep the nerves healthy and protect against deficiencies.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week
  • Maintain correct postures and avoid repetitive motions or sitting in cramped positions that can put pressure on nerves.

How do People Live with Peripheral Neuropathy?

Living with peripheral neuropathy requires proper care and management.

  • For people with diabetes, taking care of their feet and checking for cuts and blisters is essential.
  • Maintaining blood glucose levels by following a balanced diet and regular exercise is crucial to reduce complications arising out of neuropathy.
  • People with neuropathy can seek help from alternate medicines, acupuncture, and herbs to reduce pain and discomfort.
  • As alcohol is a risk factor, people with peripheral neuropathy must avoid alcohol.
  • Cigarette and tobacco consumption must be avoided as it affects blood circulation and increases foot problems in diabetics.

Bottom line:

Peripheral neuropathy affects the peripheral nervous system. Several factors increase the risk of neuropathy and cause an impairment of nerve signals that leads to pain, infection, and loss of sensation. However, with proper care, medical treatment, and changes in lifestyle and diet, we can live healthy and active life.

Please book an appointment with our experienced neurologists in Hyderabad at Gleneagles Aware Hospitals, LB Nagar, Hyderabad for more information and advice on the care and management of peripheral neuropathy .


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