Peripheral neuropathy refers to any condition that affects the nerves outside your brain or spinal cord. This can happen for several reasons, from trauma to infections to inherited conditions. There are also many possible symptoms. Many causes, forms or symptoms of this condition are treatable, but this can vary widely from person to person.
Peripheral neuropathy is an umbrella term for nerve diseases that affect a specific subdivision of your nervous system. Many different conditions can cause peripheral neuropathy, which means a wide range of symptoms is also possible. Peripheral neuropathy can also affect different body parts, depending on how and why it happens.
The term “peripheral” is from the Greek word that means “around.” “Peripheral” in this context means outside of or away from the “central” nervous system. The term neuropathy combines two words that trace their origins back to ancient Greek:
Your nervous system has two parts, the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. Your brain and spinal cord are the two components that make up your central nervous system. Your peripheral nervous system consists of all the other nerves in your body. It also includes nerves that travel from your spinal cord and brain to supply your face and the rest of your body.
Peripheral neuropathy can refer to any condition affecting your peripheral nerves. Healthcare providers often use the terms "neuropathy" and "polyneuropathy" (meaning "disease of many nerves") interchangeably with "peripheral neuropathy."" Peripheral nerves are farthest from the central nervous system, and they often show the earliest and most severe effects of these conditions
Peripheral neuropathy can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, race or ethnicity, personal circumstances, medical history, etc. However, some people are at greater risk for specific types of peripheral neuropathy (see below under Causes and Symptoms for more about this).
Peripheral neuropathy is also very common with some age-related diseases. That means the risk of developing peripheral neuropathy increases as you get older.
To understand how peripheral neuropathy affects your body, it helps to know a little about the structure of neurons, a key type of cell that makes up your nerves. Neurons send and relay signals through your nervous system using electrical and chemical signals. Each neuron consists of the following:
Peripheral neuropathy happens in two main ways:
There are many different symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. This condition can affect a single nerve, a connected group of related nerves, or many nerves in multiple places throughout your body. The symptoms also depend on the type of nerve signals affected, and multiple signal types may be involved.
The symptom types (with more about them below) are:
Your peripheral nervous system carries motor signals, which are commands sent from your brain to your muscles. These signals are what make it possible for you to move around. Your muscles need nerve connections to the brain to stay healthy and work properly.
Motor symptoms include:
Your peripheral nerves convert information about the outside world into nerve signals. Those signals then travel to your brain, which processes those signals into what you can sense of the world around you. Peripheral neuropathy can disrupt what your senses pick up from the outside world or the ability of those senses to communicate with your brain.
The sensory symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
Your body has several autonomic processes. These are the automatic functions of your body that happen without your thinking or even being aware of them. They include things like sweating, digestion, blood pressure control, etc. Autonomic nerve fibers carry autonomic signals. Disruptions in autonomic signals mean your body’s automatic processes can’t work correctly. Some may work off and on, while others may not work at all.
Autonomic symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include:
Peripheral neuropathy can happen for many reasons. These include:
Diagnosing peripheral neuropathy usually involves a combination of methods. These include:
The most common types of tests for peripheral neuropathy (either to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other conditions) include:
There are 4 Vital Components to our Neuropathy Protocol.
Some of the possible causes of peripheral neuropathy are preventable. You can also lower your chances of developing it by preventing or delaying certain conditions. In general, the best preventive or precautionary steps you can take include:
The effects of peripheral neuropathy depend on the cause, the nerves it affects, your medical history, treatments you receive and more. Your healthcare provider is the best person to tell you more about what you can expect in your case.
Peripheral neuropathy can be a temporary concern, or it can be permanent. How long it lasts depends on what caused it, the extent of the damage — if any — that it caused, the treatments and more.
Peripheral neuropathy is most likely to be permanent with chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases and genetic conditions.
However, this can still vary, so it’s best to ask your healthcare provider about what’s most likely in your case.
Peripheral neuropathy is usually not dangerous, but it can have very disruptive effects on your life. These effects are usually not as severe when it only affects one nerve or a limited group of nerves. The more nerves it affects, the greater the potential impact.
The outlook also depends partly on your symptoms. Pain from peripheral neuropathy is usually the most disruptive symptom, but medications or other treatments may help. Autonomic symptoms are among the most serious because they involve your body’s vital functions. When those don’t work correctly, it can have very severe — and sometimes dangerous — effects.
Motor and sensory symptoms can also greatly disrupt your ability to work and go about your daily activities. They can cause problems — sometimes severe — with mobility, balance and coordination. Sensory symptoms are also disruptive, especially when they involve pain or affect your ability to control what you do with the affected body part(s).
Lastly, treatments can make a big difference in outlook. Some treatments can greatly reduce or even stop symptoms, but this varies. Your healthcare provider is the best source of information on the outlook for your case and what you can do to help.
If you have symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, you should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. In some cases, peripheral neuropathy symptoms start before the condition causes permanent changes or damage, so it may be possible to limit the effects or even reverse them.
If you receive a diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy, you should see your healthcare provider as recommended or if you notice changes in your symptoms. You should also talk to them if you experience side effects from any treatments. Talking to your healthcare provider can be especially helpful when you have symptom changes or side effects that affect your usual routine and activities. Your provider may be able to modify your treatment or find ways to adapt to these changes and limit their effects.
In general, peripheral neuropathy isn’t likely to cause life-threatening complications or symptoms. However, there are a few conditions that fall under peripheral neuropathy that are severe and need immediate medical attention.
There are also conditions that share symptoms with peripheral neuropathy. You should go to the ER if you have symptoms of certain conditions that can be especially dangerous, such as:
You should also go to the ER if you have autonomic symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, such as:
Schedule your patient consultation with one of our doctors at Renew Medical Centers and determine if you are a candidate.