Neuropathy, or peripheral neuropathy, is an umbrella term for health problems that involve damage of the peripheral nerves. It can affect the somatic and autonomic nervous systems. It is estimated 20 million people in America have some form of neuropathy. Diabetes is most commonly associated with neuropathy of the limbs, as have chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS. Less common causes for neuropathy include shingles, peripheral nerve injuries, hypoglycemia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or other metabolic conditions. Some people simply develop neuropathy for unknown reasons. Research has linked neuropathy to vitamin B12 deficiency, particularly in older adults and those with a low-performing immune system. Foods high in mercury, such as canned tuna or other fish, also have the potential to injure the nerve sheath, resulting in neuropathy. It is common for the risk of neuropathy to increase as a person ages, because of the onset of chronic medical disorders.
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Symptoms of neuropathy can vary depending on the source of the disorder, but tingling, pain, weakness and even gastric problems are common. Pain is generally localized and can feel like cramping. The legs and feet are the most common places to feel this pain, but muscles can be affected, as well. Numbness and even paralysis are also experienced by people with neuropathy. Because neuropathy often affects the motor and sensory nerves responsible for posture and movement, people with the condition have a tendency to walk hunched over, drag their feet, or walk lopsided, and falling is a frequent concern. The disorder also results in muscle weakness, which can make it hard to write or hold smaller objects.
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