Peripheral neuropathy is the damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves situated outside of the central nervous system (spinal cord and brain). It includes three types of nerves as per their specific functions in the body. These include sensory nerve that are responsible for transmission of sensations (pain, temperature and touch) from muscles to the central nervous system; motor nerves control muscles and movement of the body (moving of hands, arms and talking) and transmits information from the central nervous system to the muscles; and autonomic nerves are responsible for involuntary actions of the body, such as breathing and heartbeat. The damage of autonomic nerves can lead to serious complications.(1)

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There are more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathies, which have their own set of symptoms and prognosis. Depending on the types of nerves involved, they can be sensory neuropathy, motor neuropathy, autonomic nerve neuropathy or combination neuropathies. Peripheral neuropathy has different causes that can be inherited or acquired. The most common cause in the US is diabetes making diabetic neuropathy the most common type of peripheral neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is caused due to high blood sugar levels, which results in damage of nerve fiber in the legs and feet.(1)

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Life Expectancy Of Someone With Peripheral Neuropathy

Although peripheral neuropathy does not reduce the life expectancy of a person, it can lead to several complications depending on the underlying cause. A diabetic foot ulcer is a very common complication of diabetes, which is slow healing sore or open wound. It is caused due to the reduced blood supply to the feet and increased chances of infection due to high blood sugar. Foot ulcer may lead to gangrene if the infection is not controlled, which is seen as the death of the underlying tissue. Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy is a potentially serious complication of diabetes. The damage of the peripheral nerves causes disruption of autonomic functions responsible for controlling blood pressure and heartbeat among others. The most noticeable symptoms are reduced capacity to exercise and increased exertion in a short duration of time along with orthostatic hypotension. Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy can also lead to arrhythmia that may be a cause of cardiac arrest and sudden death of the patient.(2)

Symptoms Of Peripheral Neuropathy

The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are dependent on the type of nerves involved. The symptoms of sensory neuropathy are prickling, tingling and ‘pins and needle’ sensation in the affected part of the body, numbness, burning or sharp pain, reduced ability to feel pain or temperature changes, allodynia (pain sensation from something that is usually painless, such as light touch), sensory ataxia (loss of coordination or balance that leads to reduced ability to differentiate hand and foot position).(2)

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Motor neuropathy leads to muscle cramps, twitching, muscle weakness, paralysis of one or more muscles, wasting of muscles, and foot drop (difficulty lifting the anterior foot and toes, especially while walking).(2)

Autonomic neuropathy results in damage to the autonomic nerves that have varying symptoms affecting most of the body parts that are innervated by autonomic nerves. These include postural/orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing up), rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), constipation or diarrhea (especially at night), feeling of sickness, bloating or belching, excessive sweating or lack of sweating, erectile dysfunction or other sexual dysfunction, bowel incontinence, and difficulty with emptying bladder.(2)

Mononeuropathy is the damage of a single nerve and depending on that the symptoms include weakness of the fingers, altered sensation, Bell’s palsy (weakness of one side of the face), foot or shin pain or double vision or other vision problems including focusing of the eyes along with eye pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common mononeuropathy that leads to compression of the median nerve when passing through the carpal tunnel in the wrist causing pain, numbness or tingling of the fingers.(2)

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Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: August 8, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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