If you’re experiencing the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, you’re not alone. At least 20 million Americans have this potentially debilitating condition, and medical researchers believe many more go undiagnosed.
At New Canaan Podiatry in New Canaan, Connecticut, podiatric specialist Jennifer Tauber, DPM, and our compassionate care team want to help you understand the ins and outs of peripheral neuropathy. And since about 70% of diabetics develop this troublesome condition, if you have diabetes, Dr. Tauber can evaluate your symptoms to determine if you have or are at risk of developing peripheral neuropathy.
Our team has curated this helpful guide to give you what you need to know to understand peripheral neuropathy. Read on to learn more!
What is peripheral neuropathy?
The peripheral nervous system has an important job. It’s responsible for sending information from your brain and central nervous system to your body parts. It also takes sensory information you gather from your five senses, like sight or smell, back to your central nervous system and brain.
Peripheral neuropathy results when the peripheral nerves located just outside the brain and spinal cord are damaged. With peripheral neuropathy, your nerves can’t function normally, disrupting the signals sent to and from the central nervous system. Because different nerves can be affected, peripheral neuropathy doesn’t describe a single disease but rather many disorders that could potentially result from this damage.
What symptoms may indicate peripheral neuropathy?
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy range from mild to disabling, depending on the type of nerves affected and how badly they’re damaged. Sometimes neuropathy only impacts one nerve, but more commonly many or most of the peripheral nerves are affected.
Since different nerves perform different functions, you may experience symptoms related to these different functions, such as sensory information, like temperature or touch, motor information, like movement, or even automatic functions, like blood pressure.
The most common symptoms include:
- Tingling, numbness, or prickling sensations in your feet or hands, which may gradually spread up your arms or legs
- Sharp, throbbing, or burning pain
- Extreme sensitivity to touch or temperature
- Pain during normal activities (e.g., pain when a blanket rests on your feet)
- Failing coordination and muscle weakness
- The sensation of wearing socks or gloves
- Paralysis or trouble moving
Less common symptoms are associated with damage to the autonomic nerves and include changes in blood pressure or heart rate, digestive or urinary problems, and heat intolerance or issues with sweating.
What causes peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by many different conditions, but the most common cause is diabetes. It’s common in diabetics because chronically elevated blood glucose levels result in damage to your nerve tissues. In fact, because it’s so common in people with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy is sometimes called diabetic neuropathy.
But peripheral neuropathy isn’t only an issue for people with diabetes. Many other causes of the disorder exist, including:
- Traumatic injury or pressure on the nerve(s) (e.g., car accident, sports injury)
- Repetitive stress to the nerve(s)
- Certain medications (e.g., chemotherapy)
- Certain autoimmune diseases (e.g., Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus)
- Infections (e.g., Epstein-Barr, HIV, Lyme disease, shingles)
- Tumors, cysts, and other growths that press on nerves
- Kidney or liver disease
- Vitamin deficiencies (e.g., vitamin B, vitamin E)
Sometimes, the exact cause of peripheral neuropathy can’t be identified. In this case, your doctor may diagnose you with idiopathic neuropathy, which means the cause is unknown.
How is peripheral neuropathy treated?
Some types of neuropathy can be treated and cured, while others can be managed but not cured. In both cases, treatment typically begins by identifying and managing the underlying medical cause.
Dr. Tuaber may prescribe medication to help control the pain, including topical medications, such as those containing numbing agents, and nerve stimulation therapy to disrupt the pain signals your nerves are sending so they don’t reach the brain.
Lifestyle changes can also positively impact peripheral neuropathy. Eliminating or limiting alcohol consumption, managing blood sugar through a healthy diet, and staying active to keep your body weight healthy also help.
Need help diagnosing or managing peripheral neuropathy?
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy or are worried you might be developing it, Dr. Tauber and the team at New Canaan Podiatry provide expert medical care customized for you. If you’re experiencing symptoms of neuropathy, don’t wait to seek medical care. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential in preventing further damage to your nerves.
Contact our New Canaan office and schedule an appointment to learn more about peripheral neuropathy and the available treatment options.