What causes peripheral neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy can be due to multiple underlying conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorder, vasculitis, cancer, alcoholism, vitamin deficiencies, medications, infections as well as hereditary factors.

There are two primary causes of peripheral neuropathy. The first is that you can inherit the disorder from your family. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and amyloid polyneuropathy are two examples. Second, the disorder can be acquired from injury (including injury from repetitive stress), disease, or infection. In these cases, the disease or trauma does damage to your nerves, causing the disorder. Alcoholism, exposure to toxins, and vitamin deficiency can also be causes.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Peripheral neuropathy is caused by a dysfunction in the nerves that travel from your head, face, torso, arms, and legs to your spinal cord. Irritation or damage to these nerves sends a confusing signal to the brain, which interprets the signal as pain. Sciatica is a common example of peripheral nerve pain.
This content originally appeared on
Diseases, injuries, and toxins (such as chemotherapy) can cause peripheral neuropathy, which is the most common form of neuropathy in cancer survivors and can affect them at any phase of diagnosis and treatment.

Peripheral neuropathy, which affects the peripheral nervous system, is the most common form of neuropathy among cancer survivors. Damage may lead to changes in sensation or muscle function and can be mild or severe. This condition may be experienced as tingling or numbness in certain areas of the body, commonly the hands and feet. These sensations can range from mild to painful.

Some causes of peripheral neuropathy may include:
  • Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes)
  • Infections such as leprosy, syphilis, HIV, and some forms of hepatitis
  • Nutritional deficiency, particularly of thiamine
  • Inherited disorders of metabolism and other diseases passed down through families
  • Alcohol
  • Pesticides
  • Drugs used in cancer treatment, particularly the platinum compounds, the taxanes, the vinca alkaloids, velcade, and thalidomide
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Renal failure
  • Extreme stress including the stress of living with a chronic illness
  • Radiation therapy (effects may be delayed for many years)
  • Some cancer tumors
James P. Ioli, DPM
Podiatric Medicine
The nervous system has two parts: the central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system consists of the nerves that fan out to the rest of the body and relay sensory information to and from the skin, organs, and extremities -- including the feet. Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves in the peripheral system suffer damage or degenerate. The condition can develop for any number of reasons. Diabetes is a leading culprit. Up to 62% of Americans with diabetes experience peripheral neuropathy, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Other causes include excessive alcohol consumption over a prolonged period, dietary deficiencies (caused by poor absorption of B vitamins), physical trauma, prolonged compression, vascular problems such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and immune system disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus.

Continue Learning about Pain Conditions

How is inflammation of the pudendal nerve treated?
Juan P. Villablanca, MDJuan P. Villablanca, MD
Inflammation of the pudendal nerve (a main nerve in the pelvis) can be treated with an injection of ...
More Answers
What is rebound tenderness?
Christina Goldstein-Charbonneau, DOChristina Goldstein-Charbonneau, DO
Rebound tenderness (also called the Blumberg Sign) is a nonspecific clinical sign that a doctor may ...
More Answers
What is an inflammatory effect?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Your body doesn't just form allies or fight enemies based on how many calories a particular food has...
More Answers
How do other illnesses affect central pain syndrome?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Central pain syndrome is not a condition without cause. It is the result of an illness or injury tha...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.