My feet burn throughout the day. My hands gets tingling into the fingers when I’m sleeping. I have less feeling in my feet and sometimes they are cold. These are all things patients tell me in my office and wonder what it is that is causing these symptoms. Is it peripheral neuropathy? What is peripheral neuropathy? The name peripheral neuropathy states what it is in its name. Peripheral: meaning away from or beyond the brain and spinal cord, neuro meaning relating to the nerves, and pathy meaning disease. So a nerve related disease occurring away from the brain and spinal cord in short. Patients ask me all the time if I think they have this condition. Here is a little information about it and what type of symptoms patients have.
The peripheral nerves are a network that connects our spinal cord and brain to our skin, muscles and internal organs. These nerves arrange themselves along lines in the body called dermatomes. These dermatome patterns supply the feeling to certain parts of our body. If one or more are affected you can track the nerve root by the pattern of pain or numbness that you feel. Clinically this is how we can come up with a conclusion as to what nerve is being affected. Damage to these nerves takes away the communication pathway from the brain and other parts of your body. This in turn can cause impairments to our muscles and show signs of weakness. It can also cause sensation problems to our upper and lower extremities causing pain.
Types of Peripheral Neuropathy:
Mononeuropathy- Damage to a single peripheral nerve is called mononeuropathy. An injury or trauma to a certain area can cause this. Repetitive movements can also cause this type. Carpal Tunnel syndrome is a common example of a mononeuropathy. Other types are Radial and Ulnar nerve palsy. Numbness and weakness can be caused by these types of mononeuropathies.
Polyneuropathy- This accounts for the greatest number of peripheral neuropathy cases. This happens when multiple nerves in the body are affected at the same time. Causes are usually poor nutrition, alcohol abuse and diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most common forms. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, loss of feeling and burning in the hands or feet. This can cause people to get burned very easily as well as develop wounds and not know about them. This is why diabetics are extra careful with protecting their feet.
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy:
Acquired- meaning that is is caused by an environmental factor. Toxins, illness or an infection. Some examples are alcoholism, certain kinds of cancer and poor nutrition.
Hereditary- these types are genetically passed on from your parents.
Idiopathic- these are types that are from an unknown cause.
Knowing the symptoms can help a patients ability in taking care of themselves. Knowing what to do and how to treat is helpful too. If you or someone you know has symptoms similar to what is described above you should seek medical help. A neurologist would be the first medical professional to see. Neuropathy can be a very debilitating disorder, but if it is treated it can be managed.