What is peripheral neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is a disease in a nerve that causes numbness in the arms, hands, legs and feet.

It is estimated that more than 20 million people in the United States have peripheral nerve damage and the incidence increases with age. With the aging of the baby boomer population, this number will increase in the near future.

Causes of peripheral neuropathy

Diabetes is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy in the foot. It is estimated that more than half of the people with diabetes have some type of neuropathy.
There are many other causes of peripheral neuropathy including:

  • Some medications that are used to treat cancer, such as chemotherapy can cause peripheral neuropathy.
  • Trauma to the nerve can sever the peripheral nerves.
  • Poor diet of people who suffer from alcoholism can lead to vitamin deficiencies and may cause peripheral neuropathy.
  • Vitamin deficiencies — vitamin B, vitamin E and niacin are important to maintain nerve health.
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cancer and cancerous tumors
  • Noncancerous tumors
  • Bone marrow disorders
  • Infections such as hepatitis C, HIV, Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr, leprosy and diphtheria
  • Exposure to poisons that may have metals or chemicals in them.

Risk factors for peripheral neuropathy

People who are overweight, have high blood pressure, or are over the age of 40 are at a higher risk for peripheral neuropathy.

Other risk factors for peripheral neuropathy are symptom related and include people who have:

  • Diabetes
  • Family history of peripheral neuropathy
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Lyme disease
  • Shingles
  • HIV
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Hepatitis C
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Thyroid disorders

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy

The most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include numbness and prickling or tingling in your foot that can extend up the leg.
Other symptoms of peripheral neuropathy of the foot include:

  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Sharp, intense, stabbing or shooting pain
  • Weakness or even paralysis in the foot muscles
  • Inability to walk normally

Less common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:

  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Constipation
  • Sexual dysfunction 

Diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy

Early diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy is crucial in minimizing the damage to the foot.  If you suspect you have peripheral neuropathy because you are experiencing unusual tingling and numbness in your foot schedule a visit with your primary care doctor right away.

Treatments for peripheral neuropathy

Treatments for peripheral neuropathy include working with your physician to manage the underlying disorder causing the foot neuropathy.  To manage the pain patients can self-treat for minor cases with over the counter medications and other home remedies. 

If the pain is too severe to manage with home-care a physician may treat the peripheral neuropathy with one of the following treatments:

  • Prescription medication
  • Physical therapy & rehabilitation (TENS treatment)
  • Cast or splints
  • Orthotics

Recovery from peripheral neuropathy

Recovery from peripheral neuropathy is dependent on curing or managing the underlying condition causing the neuropathy. If caught soon enough and medical intervention is started right away the condition can be reversed quickly.

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