Peripheral Nerve Disease

Also Known As Peripheral Neuropathy, It Occurs When Nerve Cells Are Damaged

Neuropathy - medical check off list
Neuropathy - medical check off list. Getty Images/Erickson Photography/E+

Peripheral nerve disease, also known as peripheral neuropathy, is a medical condition that occurs when the nerves that carry signals become damaged. A variety of disorders can interfere with normal function and the ability to send and receive signals. Since the nerves don’t function as they should, movement, feeling or sensation is affected. 

Types of Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is classified by the type of nerve fiber that is affected.

It could be motor, sensory, or autonomic.

  • Motor nerves are the nerves involved with walking, moving fingers. They send impulses from the brain and spinal column to all the muscles in the body. When the motor nerves are damaged you will have difficulty walking or picking up items.
  • send impulses from the body to the spinal column and brain. Sensory nerves are able to distinguish if an item is hot or cold, sharp or smooth. When there is damage to the sensory nerves you will experience numbness and tingling and you will be sensitive to touch.
  • Autonomic nerves are the nerves that control involuntary or voluntary functions. This includes your heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, and digestion. When autonomic nerves are damaged you will experience difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, urinary problems, diarrhea or constipation.

Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy

Because there are different types of peripheral neuropathy, it may be caused by many medical conditions, including:

When the cause of peripheral neuropathy is undetermined it is known as idiopathic neuropathy.

Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy may begin with the feeling of numbness, tingling in the fingers or toes.

It may then spread to the feet or hands with a pain that is often worse in the evening. The pain can be constant or sporadic but it is felt equally on both sides of the body.

  • Cramps
  • Twitching of fine muscles
  • Stabbing, burning, or shooting pain in the feet
  • Muscle loss
  • Changes to the skin, hair, and nails
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness
  • Sensitivity to temperature or touch
  • Burning pain
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Unusual sweating
  • Abnormal blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rate

The types of symptoms experienced will depend on the nerves affected.

Diagnosis of Peripheral Neuropathy

Because peripheral neuropathy is caused by damage to your nerves, it produces symptoms that have many causes. Your doctor will need to find out where your nerve damage is and what the reason is for the damage. In addition to a physical examination, including blood tests, your doctor will want to perform a neurological exam. The exam will check the reflexes of your tendons, your muscle strength and tone, and your posture and coordination.

Your doctor may want you to undergo diagnostic testing, which includes:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Electromyography
  • Autonomic reflex screen
  • Sweat test
  • Sensory examination
  • Nerve biopsy
  • Skin biopsy

Treatment of Peripheral Neuropathy

The goals for treatment of peripheral neuropathy include managing the condition that is causing you symptoms. Treatment may include medication to relieve the neuropathy pain, including pain relievers, anti-seizure medication, antidepressants, and topical creams. Patients with autoimmune conditions may be prescribed medication to reduce the immune system's response.

Therapy may be prescribed that includes physical therapy, plasma exchange, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and surgery for relief from pressure on the nerves.

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