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.
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:
It can be hard to diagnose peripheral neuropathy, because symptoms can vary.
Your doctor will start by asking questions about:
Your doctor will check your nerves. They may check your muscle strength and ability to feel touch, temperature, and pain.
You may also have blood tests to find out if you have diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease, or kidney problems that might cause neuropathy.
The focus of treatment for peripheral neuropathy is to relieve symptoms by treating the health problem that's causing it. For example, vitamin deficiency caused by overuse of alcohol can be treated by eating a healthy diet, taking vitamin supplements, and stopping alcohol use. If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar can slow neuropathy and may improve it.
Treatment also involves treating the symptoms of neuropathy. You may have physical therapy to 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, and tingling.
Treatment can involve cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a type of counseling that focuses on changing certain thoughts and behavior patterns to manage your symptoms.
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.
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