What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy can be grouped into various main classes. Depending on the type of nerve that’s affected, it can be classified as motor, sensory, sensorimotor, or autonomic. And, according to how many nerves are affected, it can either be classified as mononeuropathy or polyneuropathy. Genes can also be included on the affected list since peripheral neuropathy can also be passed on from generation to generation.

There are a lot of different explanations leading up to what exactly peripheral neuropathy is: its causes, symptoms, and most significantly, its treatment.  The word peripheral comes from the Greek word “peripheries” which means circumference, “neuron” also from the Greek word neuron for nerves, and “pathy” from pathos meaning disease. Therefore the definition of peripheral neuropathy is the disease of the nerves found in the circumference of the body, or more specifically, the nerves found near the surface of the body.

Peripheral neuritis, which is another name for this illness, usually affects the nerves that work to relay information from the central processing unit, the brain, to the different parts of the body — such as the major organs, skin, and joints.  Normally, when somebody slaps you on your arm, nerve endings located there – like the ulnar nerve – will send signals to the brain that there was the introduction of a certain stimulus that causes pain. The brain sends back out this information to the affected body part and will subsequently cause you to jerk your arm out of the way of the pain-causing stimuli. But with peripheral neuropathies, like the distal symmetric neuropathy usually seen in diabetic neuropathy, you will not feel anything but a possibility of numbness or tingling. And since no sensation is felt, the injury will become unnoticed. This is why diabetic patients tend to lose their extremities to amputation. In view of the fact that they don’t feel any sensation when they are injured, these injuries involving the extremities should be treated at once or the infection may spread to the bone and other nearby areas.

Peripheral neuropathy can be classified into several categories. Depending on the type of nerve affected, it is classified as motor, sensory, sensorimotor, or autonomic. On the number of nerves affected, it is either mononeuropathy or polyneuropathy. Genes can also be part of the affected list since peripheral neuropathy can also be inherited. Diseases such as diabetes, AIDS, lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis, and diphtheria, as well as being exposed to toxic compounds like solvents, glue, nitrous oxide, and heavy metals can cause peripheral neuropathies.  Even the drugs taken to treat cancer and AIDS may cause neuropathy.

A neuropathy originating from pressure on a nerve can occur when a certain position is held for long periods of time or specific actions are done repetitively over a long period of time. This causes pressure on the nerves — such as the radial nerve in the hand — due to its location in the tight compartment of the hand, leading to undue pressure which is what we call Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The ulnar nerve also gets pressure from sports-related injuries such as tennis, when the nerve gets pressure from the constant movement of the elbow. Excessive alcohol intake can also lead to peripheral neuropathies because of the toxins it releases into the blood in the form of free radicals. These free radicals attach themselves to the cells and alter their chemical substances, which in turn produce abnormal effects on the body.

Most f. a. q.‘s on peripheral neuropathy pertain to the symptoms, which are dependent on the type of nerve hit; either just one type or a combination of types.  Some common signs of peripheral neuropathy wherein the motor nerve fibers are affected include weak muscle control, loss of sensation and muscle tone, up to the more serious ones like difficulty in moving, breathing and swallowing, lack of dexterity, blurred vision, dizziness, urinary incontinence and even impotence in males. When sensory motors are affected, the signs present are numbness and tingling sensations, burning sensations, loss of vibration sense, loss of position sense, loss of coordination sense, and muscle weakness. Symptoms pertaining to damage to autonomic nerves are centered on the autonomic functions of blood pressure regulation, digestion, urination, and body temperature regulation.

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