Neuropathy, or peripheral neuropathy, describes a problem with the functionality of the peripheral nerves. These nerves are in charge of communication between the central nervous system and the rest of the body. Depending on the peripheral nerve affected, neuropathic pain can produce a broad range of symptoms of varying severity. In many instances, other health conditions can cause neuropathy, which means it can be a symptom as well as a disease.
One of the main symptoms of neuropathy is a sharp, shooting pain sporadically within the legs. Some people experience a painful ache that occurs from a stimulus that should not hurt, such as a light touch. This symptom is typical of sensory neuropathy, where dysfunctional nerves create atypical feelings in the body.
If peripheral neuropathy affects the sensory nerves, the individual may experience tingling and numbness in localized areas. This symptom happens because the nerves that carry sensory information, such as pain, temperature, or touch, are not performing optimally. Numbness usually occurs in the lower part of the body with a mounting loss of awareness of stimuli in the region. Some people also experience abnormal sensations, such as burning, tightness, shock-like sensations, or itching.
Usually, peripheral neuropathy affects the motor nerves that power most movement across the body. In some instances, neuropathy can cause frequent muscle cramps that develop from even the smallest amount of exertion. This can sometimes impede daily activities. These cramps can be so painful that they require more relief than over-the-counter pain medication can offer.
Peripheral neuropathy can also cause people to lose balance. This happens because receptors that sense where the body lies in space don't function as well in people with peripheral neuropathy. The brain depends on input from the feet and limbs to make adaptations that help maintain balance. Numbness in the feet and decreased sensation can mix up or weaken these signals.
When muscles become weak because the motor nerves have developed neuropathy, people often experience difficulty with small motions that require precision, such as buttoning a shirt and taking a lid off a jar. Lifting heavy objects may become more difficult or even impossible. In older adults, these symptoms often seem unrelated and go unnoticed because people assume they are simply experiencing the natural aging process.
In some instances of peripheral neuropathy, people experience gastric problems that can cause digestive distress. They may experience changes in metabolism or regular diarrhea or constipation, bloating, and flatulence. These symptoms are a result of neuropathy involving the autonomic nerves, which are responsible for involuntary actions. Often, the true cause of gastric problems goes undetected when symptoms are relieved with medication. However, recurring digestive disorders can be a sign of autonomic neuropathy.
The autonomic nerves also control blood pressure. If peripheral neuropathy disrupts autonomic nerves, a person can experience hypotension or low blood pressure. This can bring on many symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, and palpitations, as well as nausea, blurred vision, and, in extreme cases, fainting. As with gastric problems, these symptoms of autonomic neuropathy tend to go undetected or be misdiagnosed.
The most common type of neuropathy is diabetic peripheral neuropathy. It affects people with poorly managed blood sugar. Medical providers do not yet understand the risk factors of the second most experienced type of neuropathy, which is idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy afflicts about 10% of the US population
Diagnosis and treatment of peripheral neuropathy rely mainly on what caused the nerve damage:
Sticking to healthy habits, such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising on a regular basis, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, can help prevent nerve damage. Avoiding injurious activities and toxic chemicals and cautiously managing any other underlying issues, such as diabetes, can further reduce the risk of developing neuropathy.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.