Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy, a result of nerve damage, often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in your hands and feet, but it may also occur in other areas of your body.

People generally describe the pain of peripheral neuropathy as tingling or burning, while they may compare the loss of sensation to the feeling of wearing a thin stocking or glove.

Peripheral neuropathy can result from problems such as traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems and exposure to toxins. One of the most common causes is diabetes.

In many cases, peripheral neuropathy symptoms improve with time, especially if the condition is caused by an underlying condition that can be treated. A number of medications are used to reduce the painful symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.

 

The nerves of your peripheral nervous system send information from your brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) to all other parts of your body and back again.

Nerves that may be affected by peripheral neuropathy include:

  • Sensory nerves that receive sensations such as heat, pain or touch
  • Motor nerves that control how your muscles move
  • Autonomic nerves that control functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and bladder function

Most commonly, peripheral neuropathy starts in the longest nerves, which are the nerves that reach to your toes. Symptoms vary, depending on which types of nerves are affected. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Gradual onset of numbness and tingling in your feet or hands, which may spread upward into your legs and arms
  • Burning pain
  • Sharp, jabbing or electric-like pain
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch, even light touch
  • Skin, hair or nail changes
  • Lack of coordination
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis if motor nerves are affected
  • Heat intolerance if autonomic nerves are affected
  • Bowel, bladder or digestive problems if autonomic nerves are affected
  • Changes in blood pressure, causing dizziness or lightheadedness, if autonomic nerves are affected

Peripheral neuropathy may affect one nerve (mononeuropathy), two or more nerves in different areas (multiple mononeuropathy) or many nerves (polyneuropathy).

When to see a doctor

Seek medical care right away if you notice any unusual tingling, weakness or pain in your hands or feet. Early diagnosis and treatment offers the best chance for controlling your symptoms and preventing further damage to your peripheral nerves.

If your symptoms interfere with your sleep or you feel depressed, your doctor or pain specialist may be able to suggest treatments that can help.