Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the nerves that connect the spinal cord to the rest of the body.
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Nerve damage may be from:
- Trauma from nerve compression or inflammation
- Some medicines, such as chemotherapy treatments for cancer
- Lacking some vitamins
- Exposure to toxins and heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, or pesticides
- Exposure to cold or radiation
- Alcohol use disorder
Health problems that can damage these nerves are:
Having certain health problems may raise the chance of getting peripheral neuropathy.
Damage may cause sensory and motor problems in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. Other parts of the body may also have problems. It depends on which nerves are affected.
Problems may be mild and then get worse over time. They may be worse at night. A person may have:
- Numbness or lack of feeling
- Pain, often a burning or sharp, or cutting feeling
- Sensitivity when touched
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle weakness
- Problems walking
- Loss of coordination or balance
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Blood and urine tests will be done to rule out other problems or possible causes.
Your nerves will be tested. This can be done with:
Other tests to look for possible causes may be:
Treatment depends on what is causing the neuropathy. This can ease symptoms or make them go away. Other treatment options may be:
Exercises may be given to help with flexibility. It may help make walking easier.
Pain medicine is often used. Botulinum toxin A injections may also ease pain.
Medicines used to treat depression and prevent seizures can ease some symptoms.
People with severe problems may need:
- IV immunoglobulins to suppress the immune system
- Plasma exchange of the blood to ease swelling and suppress the immune system
Manage chronic health problems, such as diabetes. This may prevent some forms of peripheral neuropathy.
American Chronic Pain Association
The Neuropathy Association
Canadian Diabetes Association
Barrell K, Smith AG. Peripheral Neuropathy. Med Clin North Am. 2019 Mar;103(2):383-397.
Peripheral neuropathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/peripheral-neuropathy. Accessed October 16, 2020.
Peripheral neuropathy fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/peripheral-neuropathy-fact-sheet. Accessed October 16, 2020.
12/1/2016 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T474253/Peripheral-neuropathy: Attal N, de Andrade DC, et al. Safety and efficacy of repeated injections of botulinum toxin A in peripheral neuropathic pain (BOTNEP): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet Neurol. 2016 May;15(6):555-565.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 9/4/2020