Peripheral neuropathy facts

  • There are many causes of peripheral neuropathy, including many drugs, diabetes, shingles, kidney failure, and vitamin deficiency.
  • Many causes of peripheral neuropathy can be successfully treated or prevented.
  • The treatment for peripheral neuropathy depends on its cause.

What causes peripheral neuropathy?

There are many possible causes of peripheral neuropathy, including:

  1. Diabetes mellitus
  2. Shingles (post herpetic neuralgia)
  3. Vitamin deficiency, particularly B12 and folate
  4. Alcohol
  5. Autoimmune diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or Guillain-Barre syndrome
  6. AIDS, whether from the disease or its treatment, syphilis, and kidney failure
  7. Inherited disorders, such as amyloid polyneuropathy or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  8. Exposure to toxins, such as heavy metals, gold compounds, lead, arsenic, mercury, and organophosphate pesticides
  9. Cancer therapy drugs such as vincristine (Oncovin and Vincasar) and other medications, such as antibiotics including metronidazole (Flagyl) and isoniazid
  10. Rarely, diseases such as neurofibromatosis can lead to peripheral neuropathy. Other rare congenital neuropathies include Fabry disease, Tangier disease, hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathy, and hereditary amyloidosis.
  11. Statin medications have been linked to peripheral neuropathy, although neuropathy caused by statins only rarely causes symptoms.

While diabetes and postherpetic neuralgia are the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy, often times no cause is found. In these situations, it is referred to as idiopathic peripheral neuropathy.

Sometimes, peripheral nerve entrapments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are considered peripheral neuropathies. In these cases, pressure on the nerve rather than a disease state leads to nerve malfunction.

What are the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy?

The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy somewhat depend on the cause. Typically, peripheral neuropathy affects the nerves of sensation. As a result, patients affected by peripheral neuropathy develop pain, burning, or tingling in the distribution of the affected nerves. Most commonly this is in the feet and/or hands. This can cause tingling, numbness, and/or burning in the toes or fingers.

When shingles causes peripheral neuropathy, the particular nerve affected causes a very localized burning and itching sensation. This could be, for examples, in the side of the chest, the face, the buttock, etc.

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