What Is Polyneuropathy?
Polyneuropathy is one of the most common forms of neuropathy. Neuropathy means any damage or dysfunction of the nerves. Polyneuropathy is a condition in which the peripheral nerves or the nerves that lie outside the brain and the spinal cord get damaged, injured, or become dysfunctional resulting in pain among other symptoms. As the name suggests, Polyneuropathy means that multiple nerves of the peripheral nervous system gets damaged or dysfunctional all at one time resulting in symptoms depending on which nerve gets affected the most.
Polyneuropathy can be a hereditary condition as well as it can be acquired from other medical conditions. The most common hereditary medical condition that causes Polyneuropathy is Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease and diabetes mellitus is the most common cause of acquired Polyneuropathy.
Common symptoms of Polyneuropathy are numbness and tingling in the extremities along with muscle weakness and wasting or atrophy. Polyneuropathy can also cause abnormalities in blood pressure along with dysphagia and incontinence.
Treatment for Polyneuropathy is basically aimed at treating the underlying condition which led to the development of this condition. Apart from this, physical therapy and TENS unit are also widely used for treating Polyneuropathy.
What Causes Polyneuropathy?
As stated above, the cause of Polyneuropathy can be divided into two parts which are hereditary and acquired. Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease is the most common cause of hereditary Polyneuropathy. Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease is a type of neuropathy that affects only the sensory and the motor nerves and hence is also a form of sensorimotor neuropathy.
Coming to the acquired form of Polyneuropathy, diabetes mellitus is the most common condition causing acquired form of Polyneuropathy. Additionally alcohol abuse also plays a vital role in development of Polyneuropathy. Certain autoimmune disorders can also result in development of Polyneuropathy.
Some of the medical conditions that can result in Polyneuropathy are:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Renal dysfunction or failure
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Chronic alcoholism
- Neurofibromatosis, which is a hereditary disorder in which numerous tumors grow in the nervous system
- Lyme disease
- Chronic exposure to toxic chemicals and heavy metals
- Chemotherapy medications
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome which is a type of an autoimmune disorder which progresses very rapidly and damages the myelin sheath, a membrane that protects the nerve.
What Are The Symptoms Of Polyneuropathy?
Some of the common symptoms of Polyneuropathy are:
- Numbness of the extremities
- Tingling or burning sensation
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Involuntary muscle twitching
- Coordination deficits
How Is Polyneuropathy Diagnosed?
In order to diagnose Polyneuropathy, a detailed history and physical examination of the patient is done. During history taking, the patient is asked as to the duration and severity of the symptoms, whether there is a history of disease conditions like Charcot Marie Tooth Disease in the family, is there any other family member with the same symptoms, is the patient diabetic and most importantly is the patient habituated to alcohol in any form.
Once history taking is over then a physical examination of the patient is done in which the physician tries to ascertain the pattern of symptoms like whether they go from down to up meaning that they start from the feet and move upwards and whether they move from proximal to distal or vice versa.
The physician will also ascertain whether there are any reflex or coordination deficits in the patient. A detailed history and physical examination are good enough to give a confirmed diagnosis of Polyneuropathy, to further confirm it tests in the form of electrodiagnostic testing, serum protein electrophoresis, nerve conduction studies may also be done to rule out other conditions that may be causing the symptoms and confirm the diagnosis of Polyneuropathy.
How Is Polyneuropathy Treated?
Coming to the treatment of Polyneuropathy, it is usually done by identifying and treating the underlying cause of it. If diabetes is found to be the cause of Polyneuropathy, then tight control of blood sugars and medications to control diabetes are recommended for relief of symptoms of Polyneuropathy. Apart from this if alcohol is found to be the cause then strict abstinence from consumption of alcohol is recommended for relief of symptoms of Polyneuropathy. Vitamin deficiencies causing Polyneuropathy can be treated with vitamin supplements.
In case if Polyneuropathy is caused by exposure to toxins then removing the toxins from the body and abstaining from those activities that may further expose the patient is the preferred treatment. Symptoms caused by Polyneuropathy due to chemotherapy medications will abate once the treatment course is completed. For autoimmune disorders causing Polyneuropathy, immunosuppressants are preferred to treat Polyneuropathy. In case if the underlying cause cannot be controlled or treated then in such cases other management options like certain medications, lifestyle modifications and alternative methods are utilized for treating Polyneuropathy.
It is seen that various forms of antidepressants, antiseizure medications, or anticonvulsants are quite helpful in treating Polyneuropathy. TENS Unit is also quite helpful and preferred in treating Polyneuropathy. Physical therapy and exercises to keep the muscles strong and fit are yet another way to treat Polyneuropathy.