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What is peripheral neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy typically causes pain and numbness in the hands and feet - often described as a tingling or burning sensation. Peripheral neuropathy can result from diabetes, traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems or exposure to toxins. People with neuropathic pain commonly use Lyrica (32%), Neurontin (31%), and Cymbalta (12%).
The term peripheral neuropathy refers to damage to the peripheral nerves, which carry sensory and motor information to and from the brain. There are three types of nerves: motor (execute movement), sensory (carry sensory information) and autonomic (supply the blood vessels, glands and body organs).

The damage to the nerves that carry sensory information results in burning, tingling, numbness and inability to determine joint position. Damage to motor nerve fibers results in weakness of the muscles, loss of muscle bulk, falling, lack of dexterity.

Autonomic nerve damage can present as absent sweating, nausea and vomiting, irregular heart rate, diarrhea, impotence and urinary retention.

Peripheral neuropathy can be secondary to multiple conditions including toxin exposure, chemotherapy, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, diabetes and hereditary subtypes. Usually a series of blood tests and nerve conduction studies are necessary in order to diagnose peripheral neuropathy. With many neuropathies, sensation changes begin in the toes and move toward the center of the body.
Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to the peripheral nervous system, which is the vast communications network that transmits information from the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) to every other part of the body. Peripheral nerves also send sensory information back to the brain and spinal cord, such as a message that the feet are cold or a finger is burned. Damage to the peripheral nervous system interferes with these vital connections. Like static on a telephone line, peripheral neuropathy distorts and sometimes interrupts messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

Because every peripheral nerve has a highly specialized function to perform in a specific part of the body, a wide array of symptoms can occur when nerves are damaged. Some people may experience temporary numbness, tingling, and pricking sensations (paresthesia), sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness. Others may suffer more extreme symptoms including burning pain (especially at night), muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction. People may become unable to digest food easily, maintain safe levels of blood pressure, sweat normally, or experience normal sexual function. In the most extreme cases, breathing may become difficult or organ failure may occur.

Some forms of neuropathy involve damage to only one nerve and are called mononeuropathies. Occasionally, two or more isolated nerves in separate areas of the body are affected and are called mononeuritis multiplex.

In acute neuropathies, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, symptoms appear suddenly, progress rapidly, and resolve slowly as damaged nerves heal. In chronic forms, symptoms begin subtly and progress slowly. Some people may have periods of relief followed by relapse. Others may reach a plateau stage in which symptoms stay the same for many months or years. Some chronic neuropathies worsen over time, but very few forms prove fatal unless complicated by other diseases. Occasionally, neuropathy is a symptom of another disorder.

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

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