More than 20 million Americans are living with peripheral neuropathy. Commonly referred to as neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy refers to a group of conditions involving damage to the peripheral nerves and the symptoms resulting from that injury. A network of motor and sensory nerves, the peripheral nervous system, connects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to the entire human body.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can range from mild to disabling but are rarely life-threatening. Those suffering from peripheral neuropathy may experience the following symptoms:
- Chronic pain
- A burning sensation
- Difficulty balancing
- Lack of coordination
- Tingling, weakness or numbness in the part of the body connected to the damaged nerve
- Paralysis, if motor nerves are affected
In cases where the autonomic nerves are affected, the body may be difficulty controlling functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and bladder.
What causes peripheral neuropathy?
There is no one single cause for peripheral neuropathy, which makes seeking an accurate diagnosis from a qualified medical professional vitally important to the success of treatment. Possible causes of nerve damage include:
- Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and others
- Exposure to toxins, heavy metals or harmful chemicals
- Medications, especially those used to treat cancer
- Infections such as Lyme disease, HIV, shingles, hepatitis C and others
- Hereditary disorders
- Trauma such as from a car accident, fall, accident or injury
- Vitamin deficiencies, including those that stem from poor nutrition associated with alcoholism
- Bone marrow disorders
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Connective tissue disorders
Diagnosis and Treatment
You may first visit your primary care physician who will ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms. If nerve damage is suspected, you may be referred to a neurologist who specializes in conditions of the brain and spinal cord. A neurological exam and a nerve study (nerve conduction study and electromyography) can help determine the nature and extent of neuropathy. If necessary, additional screenings such as genetic, physiologic, and neuropathology tests may help pinpoint the source.
Once the cause is determined, it will dictate the most effective course of treatment. Treating the underlying cause may lead to nerve regeneration and recovery. Treatment options include:
- Medication to manage symptoms or treat inflammatory and autoimmune conditions
- Lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and avoiding exposure to toxins
- Mechanical aids such as hand or foot braces, orthopedic shoes, or splints
- Surgery, or neurosurgical decompression, may be recommended for certain types of neuropathies such as protruding disks
- Nerve stimulation using a noninvasive transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit
Contact Regional Neurological Associates
The physicians at Regional Neurological Associates specialize in providing comprehensive neurological care. Rather than focusing on the treatment of your symptoms, we strive to identify the source of your condition and recommend the most effective solution to help restore your quality of life. To schedule an appointment, call (718) 515-4347.