What is Peripheral Neuropathy and What causes it?

Peripheral Neuropathy (PN) Occurs when nerves are damaged or destroyed and can’t send messages to the muscles, skin, brain and other parts. Peripheral nerves run from the brain and spinal cord to the arms, hands, legs, and feet. When damage occurs, numbness and pain in these areas may occur. It can affect multiple nerves (polyneuropathy) or only one nerve or nerve group (mononeuropathy) due to trauma, injury, local compression, prolonged pressure, or inflammation.  It starts with numbness, prickling or tingling in the toes or fingers. It may spread up the feet or hands and cause burning, freezing, throbbing and/or shooting pains. It is often worse at night. Sometimes it is constant or periodic and usually the pain is felt equally in both hands or in both feet. It can develop suddenly, while others progress more slowly over many years.

The majority of people, however, suffer from polyneuropathy, an umbrella term for damage involving many nerves at the same time. The body’s nervous system is made up of two parts. The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) connects the nerves running from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body – the arms and hands, legs and feet, internal organs, joints and the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, and skin. Polyneuropathy can be caused by a number of different things such as:.disease, diabetes, smoking, chemotherapy treatments, organ transplants, exposure to toxins such as pesticides/herbicides, chemical exposures, statin drugs, surgeries, hormonal imbalances, vitamin deficencies and alcoholism, vascular damage, connective tissue disorders, benign tumors, repetitive stress, infections and autoimmune disorders, lyme disease and diphtheria, viral and bacterial infections just to name a few.

Peripheral neuropathy may be chronic (a long term condition where symptoms begin subtly and progress slowly) or acute (sudden onset, rapid progress and slow resolution). Acute neuropathies demand urgent diagnosis. Motor nerves (that control muscles), sensory nerves, or autonomic nerves (that control automatic functions such as heart rate, body temperature and breathing), may be affected. More than one type of nerve may be affected at the same time. Peripheral neuropathies may be classified according to the type of nerve predominantly involved, or by the underlying cause. Where the cause is unknown it is described as idiopathic neuropathy.

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