What are the symptoms of peripheral nerve damage?

The symptoms of peripheral nerve damage include numbness, tingling, weakness or pain in the hands, wrists, ankles, and feet.

There are several different types of symptoms a person can experience with peripheral nerve damage. Some people will experience only numbness of the extremities, normally the feet. However, other people can have more painful symptoms such as tingling and burning along with decreased sensation of the extremities where the nerve is damaged.

Symptoms are related to the type of the nerve affected and may be seen over a period of days, weeks or years. Muscle weakness is the most common symptom of motor nerve damage. Other symptoms may include painful cramps and fasciculations (uncontrolled muscle twitching visible under the skin); muscle loss; bone degeneration; and changes in the skin, hair and nails. These more general degenerative changes can also result from sensory or autonomic nerve fiber loss.

Sensory nerve damage causes a more complex range of symptoms because sensory nerves have a wider, more highly specialized range of functions. Larger sensory fibers enclosed in myelin (a fatty protein that coats and insulates many nerves) register vibration, light touch and position sense. Damage to large sensory fibers lessens the ability to feel vibrations and touches, resulting in a general sense of numbness, especially in hands and feet. Neuropathic pain is often worse at night, seriously disrupting sleep and adding to the emotional burden of sensory nerve damage.

Smaller sensory fibers without myelin sheaths transmit pain and temperature sensations. Damage to these fibers can interfere with the ability to feel pain or changes in temperature. People may fail to sense that they have been injured from a cut or that a wound is becoming infected. Others may not detect pains that warn of an impending heart attack or other acute conditions.

Symptoms of autonomic nerve damage are diverse and depend on which organs or glands are affected. Autonomic nerve dysfunction can become life threatening and may require emergency medical care in cases in which breathing becomes impaired or the heart begins beating irregularly. Common symptoms of autonomic nerve damage include an inability to sweat normally, which may lead to heat intolerance; a loss of bladder control, which may cause infection or incontinence; and an inability to control muscles that expand or contract blood vessels to maintain safe blood pressure levels.

Gastrointestinal symptoms frequently accompany autonomic neuropathy. Nerves controlling intestinal muscle contractions often malfunction, leading to diarrhea, constipation or incontinence. Many people also have problems eating or swallowing if certain autonomic nerves are affected.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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