What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

How peripheral neuropathy differs from MS

Peripheral neuropathy can result in partial paralysis.
Peripheral neuropathy can result in partial paralysis. Huntstock/Getty Images

Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the peripheral nervous system that causes pain, numbness, tingling and/or muscle weakness in the extremities. It usually affects the feet and legs, although the hands and arms also may be affected.

Peripheral neuropathy is a result of damage to the axons or the myelin surrounding the nerves. It can be a result of diabetes or a side effect of certain medications, but is not caused by multiple sclerosis (MS).

However, sensory symptoms of MS (such as parasthesias) that are caused by lesions in the central nervous system can closely resemble peripheral neuropathy.

The Difference Between Peripheral Neuropathy and MS

There are similarities between multiple sclerosis (MS) and peripheral neuropathy. Symptoms for both often involve the inability to move limbs, loss of body position sense, strange sensations, and temporary paralysis, etc. Because of this symptom overlap, neuropathy patients should be tested for MS.

What differentiates the two? MS damages the brain, and therefore makes it difficult for the brain to do its job of transmitting signals to the peripheral nerves. Peripheral Neuropathy describes a condition where the peripheral nerves are damaged, which makes it difficult for the body’s electrical system to communicate necessary information back to the brain.

As for MS and Peripheral Neuropathy occurring together, it is uncommon for peripheral nerve abnormalities to be present in multiple sclerosis (MS).

If they are, it is usually attributed to factors associated with advanced disease, such as malnutrition or cytotoxic drugs.

Diagnosing Peripheral Neuropathy

While you are being diagnosed for neuropathy, make sure that you are aware of your family medical history since this can help give your doctor insight to possible causes of symptoms that you are experiencing.

Speaking of symptoms, make sure you are logging your symptoms so that you can describe them in detail and any patterns in their occurrence can be identified. In addition, take note of any pain or weakness that you experience during your symptoms.

Next, you will undergo a neurological examination. This will provide any objective evidence of peripheral neuropathy. Weakness may be present, which is typically greater in the toes and fingers than in the larger muscle groups of the arms and legs. Expect to see the reflex hammer during your evaluation. Those with neuropathy tend to not lurch their limbs when struck, signaling no reflexes.

Finally, your doctor may test your temperature tolerance, as well as your response to a sharp pin or vibration. If you test positive for peripheral neuropathy, then you may have a nerve conduction test, which examines nerve and muscle integrity.

Peripheral Neuropathy and Other Conditions

Peripheral neuropathy can occur in other diseases and conditions, such as breast cancer, HIV, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis, either as a symptom or as a side effect to treatment. Read more about it:

A Guide to Peripheral Neuropathy

Your Guide to Chemo-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)

What Are the Links Between Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity, and Neuropathy?

Peripheral Neuropathy: A Symptom of HIV

What Is Diabetic Neuropathy?

Can Glutamine Reduce or Prevent Chemo-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy?

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