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Peripheral neuropathy is a type of damage to the nervous system -- more specifically, a problem with your peripheral nervous system. This is the network of nerves that transmits information from your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord) to the rest of your body.
There are more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy, each with its own set of symptoms and prognosis. To help doctors classify them, they are often broken down into the following categories:
Peripheral neuropathy has many different causes. Some people inherit the disorder from their parents, and others develop it because of an injury or another disorder.
In many cases, a different type of medical problem, such as a kidney condition or a hormone imbalance, leads to peripheral neuropathy. One of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy in the U.S. is diabetes.
The following are risk factors for peripheral neuropathy:
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy vary based on the type that you have and what part of the body is affected. Symptoms can range from tingling or numbness in a certain body part to more serious effects such as burning pain or paralysis.
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
The symptoms and body parts affected by peripheral neuropathy are so varied that it may be difficult to make a diagnosis. If your health care provider suspects nerve damage, he or she will take an extensive medical history and do a number of neurological tests to determine the location and extent of your nerve damage. These may include:
Depending on what basic tests reveal, your health care provider may want to perform more in-depth scanning and other tests to get a better look at your nerve damage. Tests may include:
Usually a peripheral neuropathy can’t be cured, but you can do a lot of things to prevent it from getting worse. If an underlying condition like diabetes is at fault, your health care provider will treat that first and then treat the pain and other symptoms of neuropathy.
In some cases, over-the-counter pain relievers can help. Other times, prescription drugs are needed. Some of these drugs include mexiletine, a medication developed to correct irregular heart rhythms; antiseizure drugs, such as gabapentin, phenytoin, and carbamazepine; and some classes of antidepressants, including tricyclics such as amitriptyline.
Lidocaine injections and patches may help with pain in other instances. And in extreme situations, surgery can be used to destroy nerves or repair injuries that are causing neuropathic pain and symptoms.
Lifestyle choices can play a role in preventing peripheral neuropathy. You can lessen your risk for many of these conditions by avoiding alcohol, correcting vitamin deficiencies, eating a healthy diet, losing weight, avoiding toxins, and exercising regularly. If you have kidney disease, diabetes, or other chronic health condition, it is important to work with your health care provider to control your condition, which may prevent or delay the onset of peripheral neuropathy.
Even if you already have some form of peripheral neuropathy, healthy lifestyle steps can help you feel your best and reduce the pain and symptoms related to the disorder. You’ll also want to quit smoking, not let injuries go untreated, and be meticulous about caring for your feet and treating wounds to avoid complications, such as the loss of a limb.
In some cases, non-prescription hand and foot braces can help you compensate for muscle weakness. Orthotics can help you walk better. Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, may help ease emotional as well as physical symptoms.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.