What is a peripheral neuropathy?
peripheral neuropathy describes a problem with the functioning
of the nerves outside of the spinal cord. The symptoms of a neuropathy may
include numbness, weakness, burning pain (especially at night), and loss of
reflexes. The pain may be severe and disabling.
What causes a peripheral neuropathy?
There are many possible causes of peripheral neuropathy, including:
- Some of the most common causes include repetitive activities such as typing
or working on an assembly line. In this case, the neuropathy may be isolated to
the upper extremities, such as with carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Pressure on a nerve can cause a peripheral neuropathy. For example, pressure
on a nerve that comes out from the groin to the skin in front of the upper thigh
(the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve) can cause burning and tingling in this
location. This particular problem is called meralgia paresthetica and can be
caused by wearing a tight belt or other restrictive clothing. Additionally, it
can result from being overweight or pregnant.
- Many illnesses can result in peripheral neuropathy. Some examples include
diabetes, syphilis, AIDS, and kidney failure.
- Other causes include nutritional deficiencies, such as B-12 and folate
deficiency, medications and chemical exposures. Medications known to cause
peripheral neuropathy, include several AIDS drugs (DDC and DDI), antibiotics (metronidazole, an antibiotic used
for Crohn's disease, isoniazid used for TB), gold compounds (used for rheumatoid arthritis), some chemotherapy drugs (such as
vincristine and others) and many others. Chemicals known to cause peripheral
neuropathy include alcohol, lead, arsenic, mercury and organophosphate
- Some peripheral neuropathies are associated with diseases which are
inherited (hereditary). Others are related to infectious processes (such as Guillian-Barre syndrome).
Is there any treatment for peripheral neuropathy?
The treatment for peripheral neuropathy depends on its cause. Many
peripheral neuropathies can be treated by addressing the underlying cause (such
as vitamin deficiency). Others can be prevented from occurring. For example,
controlling diabetes may prevent diabetic neuropathy. Still others can be
corrected by surgery (for example carpal tunnel syndrome). Neuropathies that are
associated with immune diseases can improve with treatment directed at the
abnormal features of the immune system.
If a specific treatment isn't available, the pain of the neuropathy can
usually be controlled. The simplest treatment is acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Tricyclic
antidepressants such as amitriptyline (ELAVIL) and
anti-seizure medications, such as carbamazepine (TEGRETOL) have
been used to relieve the pain of neuropathy. Capsaicin, the chemical responsible
for chili peppers being hot, is used as a cream to help relieve the pain of a
peripheral neuropathy. Finally, a nerve block may be effective at relieving the
If you believe you have a peripheral neuropathy, you should contact your
health care practitioner since many causes of peripheral neuropathy can be
- There are many causes of peripheral neuropathy, including many drugs,
diabetes, kidney failure, and vitamin deficiency.
- Many causes of peripheral neuropathy can be successfully treated or
- The treatment for a peripheral neuropathy depends on its cause.