Peripheral neuropathy refers to a diverse group of disorders that cause damage to nerve fibers. The usual symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include numbness of the feet and fingers, weakness, and unsteadiness.
Our specialists are experts at identifying the cause of peripheral neuropathy and recommending effective treatment. There are many types of peripheral neuropathy, which can be brought on by diabetes, hereditary causes, exposure to toxic chemicals, alcoholism, malnutrition, inflammation (infectious or autoimmune), injury, and nerve compression, and by taking certain medications such as those used to treat cancer and HIV/AIDS. Sometimes the cause is never determined. This is referred to as idiopathic—a term for a disease or disorder having no known cause.
Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
If you have a peripheral neuropathy disorder, you may experience intermittent numbness, tingling and pricking sensations, sensitivity to touch or muscle weakness. The feeling generally begins in the tips of the fingers and toes then slowly moves through the whole toe and bottom of the foot. More extreme symptoms may include burning pain (especially at night), muscle weakness, or problems with balance. Because symptoms vary, this disorder can be difficult to diagnose.
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy may be either inherited or the result of a traumatic physical injury to a nerve. Other causes include:
- Toxins, such as alcohol
- Autoimmune responses
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Inflammatory, infectious diseases, such as leprosy, Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C
- Autoimmune diseases, such as Celiac’s disease
- Vascular and metabolic disorders
Expert Diagnosis of Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy can be difficult to diagnose. A thorough examination is usually required. If you are showing symptoms of a neuromuscular disorder, our specialists will review your patient history carefully and perform tests that may identify the cause of your condition. Your doctor will also conduct tests, such as a physical exam and blood tests, to determine the extent and type of nerve damage.
Additional tests may include exams to determine your muscle strength, possible abnormal antibodies in the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord, and possible sensory nerve damage. Electro-diagnostic testing is the gold standard for diagnosing this disease. Those tests could include CT scans, MRIs, and electromyography (EMG) as well as nerve conduction velocity (NCV) tests to precisely measure the degree of damage in larger nerve fibers and nerve biopsies or skin biopsies.
Is Peripheral Neuropathy Treatable?
Most peripheral neuropathies are treatable, but only a few causes of peripheral neuropathy are reversible or can be cured. For example, neuropathy caused by certain vitamin deficiencies can be effectively treated, but no medical treatments exist that can cure inherited peripheral neuropathy. Treatment therapies exist for many other forms of the disease.
In general, you can reduce the physical and emotional effects of peripheral neuropathy by adopting healthy habits, such as:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding exposure to toxins
- Following a doctor-supervised exercise program
- Eating a balanced diet
- Correcting vitamin deficiencies
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption