Top of the page
Peripheral neuropathy is a problem that affects the peripheral nerves. These are the nerves that lead from the spinal cord to other parts of the body. These nerves control your sense of touch, how you feel pain and temperature, and your muscle strength. Most of the time the problem starts in the fingers and toes. As it gets worse, it moves into the limbs, causing pain and loss of feeling in the feet, legs, and hands.
When you have peripheral neuropathy, you may have less feeling in your fingers and toes. You may have trouble with your balance. It may be hard to do things that require coordination, such as walking or fastening buttons.
Doctors don't always know what causes peripheral neuropathy. It is often caused by other health problems. It can also run in families.
The most common cause is diabetes. Having your blood sugar too high for too long a time can damage the nerves.
Other problems can also cause peripheral neuropathy, such as:
These can lead to toxic substances in the blood that damage nerves.
Not getting enough nutrients, such as vitamin B-12, can damage nerves. Overuse of alcohol and not eating a healthy diet can lead to these vitamin deficiencies.
Diseases, such as HIV or Guillain-Barré syndrome, can damage the central and peripheral nerves.
Arsenic and certain medicines, such as those used for chemotherapy, can damage nerves.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can occur slowly over time. The most common ones are:
To diagnose peripheral neuropathy, your doctor will ask you about:
Your doctor will check your nerves. The doctor may check your muscle strength and ability to feel touch, temperature, and pain.
Sometimes nerve tests are needed. These include electromyography and nerve conduction tests.
You may also have blood tests. These tests will help the doctor find out if you have conditions that can cause neuropathy. Examples are diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease, and kidney problems.
Treatment for peripheral neuropathy can relieve symptoms. This is done by treating the health problem that's causing it. For example, if you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar within your target range may help. Or maybe your body lacks certain vitamins caused by drinking too much alcohol. In that case, treatment may include eating a healthy diet, taking vitamins, and stopping alcohol use.
You may have physiotherapy. This can increase muscle strength and help build muscle control. Over-the-counter medicine can relieve mild nerve pain. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine to help with severe pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. If you have neuropathy in your feet, it's a good idea to have them checked during each office visit. This can help prevent problems.
Some people find that physiotherapy, acupuncture, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) helps relieve pain.
Adopting healthy habits can reduce the effects of peripheral neuropathy. Be sure to eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, avoid alcohol, and quit smoking.
It's also a good idea to take care to avoid injury.
Current as of: August 25, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineDavid C.W. Lau MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Current as of: August 25, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & David C.W. Lau MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.