What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral Neuropathy: is a series of disorders that are caused by damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system. These disorders can result in pain, muscle weakness or numbness. There are many types pf Peripheral Neuropathy, with a variety of causes. At Sharlin Health & Neurology, Neurologist Dr. Ken Sharlin will help you discover the root cause and get you back on the road to wellness with this disorder.

Answers to Common Questions About Peripheral Neuropthy

What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is not a single disease. It is a general term for a series of disorders that result from damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system sends messages from the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) to the rest of the body: the arms and hands, legs and feet, internal organs, joints and even the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, and skin. Peripheral nerves also relay information back to the spinal cord and brain from the skin, joints, and other organs. Peripheral neuropathy occurs when these nerves are damaged or destroyed, resulting in loss of sensation, pain, or inability to control muscles.

There are many causes of peripheral neuropathy, including diabetes, hereditary disorders, inflammation, infections or autoimmune diseases, protein abnormalities, compression or physical trauma, exposure to toxic chemicals, poor nutrition, kidney failure, chronic alcoholism, and certain medications – especially those used to treat cancer and HIV/AIDS. In some cases, however, even with extensive evaluation, the cause of a person’s peripheral neuropathy remains unknown – this is called idiopathic neuropathy.

Source: Peripheral Neuropathy Center 

What Are the Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy usually starts with numbness, prickling or tingling in the toes or fingers. It may spread up to the feet or hands and cause burning, freezing, throbbing and/or shooting pain that is often worse at night. The pain can be either constant or periodic, but usually the pain is felt equally on both sides of the body-in both hands or in both feet. Some types of peripheral neuropathy develop suddenly, while others progress more slowly over many years.

The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy often include:

  • A sensation of wearing an invisible “glove” or “sock”
  • Burning sensation or freezing pain
  • Sharp, jabbing or electric-like pain
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty sleeping because of feet and leg pain
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking or moving the arms
  • Unusual sweating
  • Abnormalities in blood pressure or pulse

The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may depend on which of the three types of peripheral nerves (motor, sensory and autonomic) have been damaged. Some neuropathies affect all three types of nerves, while others involve only one or two.

Motor nerves send impulses from the brain and spinal cord to all of the muscles in the body. This permits people to do activities like walking, catching a baseball, or moving the fingers to pick something up. Motor nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness, difficulty walking or moving the arms, cramps, and spasms.

Sensory nerves send messages in the other direction-from the muscles back to the spinal cord and the brain. Special sensors in the skin and deep inside the body help people identify if an object is sharp, rough, or smooth, if it’s hot or cold, or if a body part is still or in motion. Sensory nerve damage often results in tingling, numbness, pain, and extreme sensitivity to touch.

Autonomic nerves control involuntary or semi-voluntary functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and sweating. When the autonomic nerves are damaged, a person’s heart may beat faster or slower. He or she may get dizzy when standing up, sweat excessively, or have difficulty sweating at all. In addition, autonomic nerve damage may result in difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, problems with urination, abnormal pupil size, and sexual dysfunction..

Source: Peripheral Neuropathy Center 

What is the Difference Between Polyneuropathy and Mononeuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy can affect multiple nerves (polyneuropathy) or only one nerve or nerve group (mononeuropathy) at a time.

Mononeuropathy is usually the result of damage to a single nerve or nerve group by trauma, injury, local compression, prolonged pressure, or inflammation. Examples include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (a painful wrist and hand disorder often associated with repetitive tasks on a computer keyboard)
  • Bell’s palsy (a facial nerve disorder)

The majority of people, however, suffer from polyneuropathy, an umbrella term for damage involving many nerves at the same time.

Source: Peripheral Neuropathy Center

What Role Does Celiac Disease (Gluten Sensitivity) Play in Peripheral Neuropathy?

Celiac disease, a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food, can be associated with peripheral neuropathy, along with other disorders. People with celiac disease cannot tolerate a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. It is an inherited condition that is believed to be significantly under-diagnosed in the United States.

For people who are genetically susceptible to celiac disease, gluten can trigger an autoimmune reaction in the intestines, which causes a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms and prevents the proper absorption of food and nutrients. A recent study found that some people with celiac disease had neuropathic symptoms before the gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease appeared.

Source: Peripheral Neuropathy Center

What is Pre-Diabetes? Can that Cause Peripheral Neuropathy?

It is well-known that diabetic patients frequently develop peripheral neuropathy. Today, doctors are exploring a link between peripheral neuropathy and pre-diabetes (also known as impaired glucose tolerance or IGT). An estimated 20 million people in the US have what is being called “pre-diabetes” or “borderline diabetes” — a condition where the body has higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not high enough to be diagnosed as true diabetes. If left untreated, people with pre-diabetes are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and nerve damage (which could result in peripheral neuropathy.)

People with pre-diabetes often have no symptoms. People who actually have diabetes-and who therefore are at greater risk of developing peripheral neuropathy-often don’t realize it because the symptoms of diabetes (frequent urination, constant thirst, blurred vision, fatigue, cuts and bruises that heal slowly, and tingling or numbness in the hands or feet) come on so gradually. You might want to consider being screened for pre-diabetes if you are over the age of 45, overweight and not physically active, have a family history of diabetes, and belong to an ‘at-risk’ ethnic or minority group.

The good news is that studies show that with modest weight loss (5 – 10% of total body weight) and increased moderate physical activity, such as walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%

Source: Peripheral Neuropathy Center

What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy may be either inherited or acquired through disease processes or trauma. In many cases, however, a specific cause cannot be identified. Doctors usually refer to neuropathies with no known cause as idiopathic.

Causes of acquired peripheral neuropathy include:

  • Physical Injury (Trauma) is the most common of acquired nerve injury.
    • Injury or Sudden Trama
    • Repetitive Stress
  • Diseases or Disorders and their related processes (such as inflammation) can be associated with peripheral neuropathy.
    • Metabolic and Endocrine Disorders
    • Small Vessel Disease
    • Autoimmune Diseases
    • Kidney Disorders
    • Cancers
    • Neuromas
    • Infections
  • Exposure to Toxins may damage nerves and cause peripheral neuropathy.
    • Medication Toxicity
    • Environment or Industrial Toxins
    • Heavy Alcohol Consumption

How is Peripheral Neuropathy Diagnosed?

Neurologist Dr. Ken Sharlin of Sharlin Health & Neurology located in Ozark, Missouri is available to help you with correctly diagnosing systems as they relate to Peripheral Neuropathy. We currently are accepting self-referrals which gives patients the unique ability to be treated by Dr. Sharlin within weeks, not months. We are the Ozark’s only private neurology practice and our patients are our only focus.

The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are highly variable. A thorough neurological examination is required to sort out the cause of the symptoms and involves taking an extensive medical history (covering symptoms, work environment, social habits, exposure to toxins, alcohol use, risk of HIV or other infectious diseases, and family history of neurological diseases). In addition, tests are usually performed to identify the cause of the neuropathy as well as the extent and type of nerve damage.

Electromyography (EMG) may be ordered and provided within our clinic as part of our neurological exam. EMG involves inserting a fine needle into a muscle to record electrical activity when muscles are at rest and when they contract. EMG tests detect abnormal electrical activity in motor neuropathy and can help Dr. Sharlin differentiate between muscle and nerve disorders.

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