Neuropathy, which doctors refer to as peripheral neuropathy or PN, signifies a problem with the functionality of the peripheral nerves responsible for the transmission of signals from the central nervous system to the rest of the body and from the body back to the brain. Depending on which peripheral nerves are affected, PN produces many symptoms with varying degrees of severity. In a lot of cases, other health conditions perpetuate PN, and thus, it can be both a symptom and disease unto itself.
If peripheral neuropathy affects the sensory nerves, a person may experience numbness and tingling in localized areas of the body. This occurs because the nerves that carry messages of sensation — touch, pain, temperature, and so on — are not performing optimally. Numbness generally occurs in the lower half of the body, with an increasing loss of perception in the region. Tingling signifies a mild, prickly feeling of localized magnitude.
Many individuals suffering from PN experience sharp, shooting pains at random, mostly in their legs. Sometimes this pain comes from a stimulus that should not be painful, such as a light touch. It is noteworthy that these are characteristic of sensory neuropathy where dysfunctional nerves produce atypical sensations in the body.
Peripheral neuropathy may cause loss of balance due to muscle weakness or a loss of sensation in the legs. This makes it harder to know where the body is in space.
A complex network of systems across the body control how we walk. Walking relies on the proper functioning of sensory and motor nerves in an integrated manner. Those suffering from PN may develop an abnormal gait due to dysfunction of the sensory and motor nerves. A stooping walk, lopsided trudge, or dragging feet can indicate this symptom.
Peripheral neuropathy may affect motor nerves that control movement across the body. In such cases, muscle cramps can occurand interfere with daily activities. These cramping aches may sometimes be so severe that over-the-counter NSAIDs may not be sufficient and stronger prescriptions drugs may be required.
When muscles become weak due to motor nerves developing neuropathy, patients can have problems performing small movements that require precision. For instance, buttoning a shirt, gesticulating, and picking up small objects may become difficult. In older individuals, these signs often go unacknowledged or are attributed to the natural aging process.
In some cases of peripheral neuropathy, patients suffer from gastric problems such as indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or flatulence. This occurs when neuropathy affects the autonomic nerves, which govern involuntary actions. Often, the cause of gastric problems goes undetected when a person takes medications to relieve these common symptoms.
The autonomic nerves also control blood pressure. If peripheral neuropathy affects these nerves, one may develop hypotension, a drop in blood pressure. Low blood pressure may produce a host of symptoms from fatigue, dizziness, and palpitation to nausea, blurred vision, and fainting in extreme cases. As with gastric problems, often the cause goes undetected.
When, in rare cases, peripheral neuropathy affects a specific nerve, Bell's palsy can develop, causing temporary weakness or paralysis of facial muscles on either side of the face. People with Bell's palsy may suffer from mild muscle weakness or complete facial paralysis. The face may droop on one side, and it may be difficult to make facial expressions or close the eye on that side.
Depending on the specific nerve or nerves affected, PN produces various symptoms. Some people experience eye problems such as eye pain, double vision, and difficulty focusing. Others complain of altered sensation and weakness in the fingers. Sweating, heat intolerance, loss of bladder and bowel control, impotence, and carpal tunnel syndrome are also by-products of peripheral neuropathy.
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