What is neuropathy?

Neuropathy is a common condition caused by damage to the peripheral nerves of the nervous system. Neuropathy is also known also peripheral neuropathy.

The peripheral nerves spread out from the brain via the spinal cord. The peripheral nerves relay nerve impulses and sensory information from the body to the spinal cord, where they are then carried to the brain. The peripheral nerves also carry motor signals for muscle movement and other functions, such as organ function, from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, including the organs.

Damage to the peripheral nerves interferes with normal functioning of the peripheral nervous system. Typical symptoms of neuropathy include unusual or abnormal sensations of the extremities, which commonly occur in the feet. A wide variety of other symptoms can occur as well because there are many types of peripheral nerves with specialized functions that can be affected by neuropathy. For example, peripheral nerves control the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for involuntary functions including:

  • Blood pressure

  • Breathing

  • Contraction of the smooth muscles of organs, such as the heart and bladder

  • Digestion

  • Sexual functions

A very common cause of neuropathy is diabetes. This is called diabetic neuropathy. Neuropathy can also result from certain metabolic disorders, infections, malignancy, inflammation, vitamin deficiencies, toxins, inherited conditions, and other abnormal processes. The goal of the clinical evaluation is to identify the root cause for peripheral neuropathy.

Treatment of neuropathy involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Some conditions can be successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment.

Complications of untreated neuropathy and its underlying causes can be serious and include permanent loss of nerve function, muscle wasting, paralysis, serious infections, and gangrene. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of neuropathy, such as changes in sensation, difficulty moving, or any other unexplained or persistent symptoms. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of neuropathy and its underlying cause reduces the risk of permanent nerve damage and serious complications.

Some complications of neuropathy can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have chest pain, difficulty breathing, or a change in alertness or passing out.


SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of neuropathy?

Neuropathy generally develops slowly, over a period of months, as peripheral nerves are progressively damaged. A wide variety of symptoms can occur because there are many types of peripheral nerves that have many specialized functions that can be affected by neuropathy.

Symptoms of neuropathy that affect the nerves of the limbs and muscles

Common symptoms of neuropathy ... Read more about neuropathysymptoms

CAUSES

What causes neuropathy?

Neuropathy is caused by damage to the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nerves are responsible for relaying messages from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. Widespread nerve damage can result from nerve compression, metabolic disorders, infections, malignancy, inflammation, vitamin deficiencies, toxins, inherited conditions, and other abnormal processes.

A c... Read more about neuropathycauses

TREATMENTS

How is neuropathy treated?

Treatment plans for neuropathy are individualized to the underlying cause and the presence of coexisting diseases and complications. Treatment generally involves a multifaceted plan that addresses the underlying cause, minimizes the pain and abnormal sensations, and reduces the risk of complications, such as gangrene. The ultimate goal is to help you achieve and maintain an independent and acti... Read more about neuropathytreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves