Peripheral Nerve Disorder

Peripheral nerve disorders distort or interrupt the messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

Your peripheral nerves are the ones outside your brain and spinal cord. Like static on a telephone line, peripheral nerve disorders distort or interrupt the messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

There are more than 100 kinds of peripheral nerve disorders. They can affect one nerve or many nerves. Some are the result of other diseases, like diabetic nerve problems. Others, like Guillain-Barre syndrome, happen after a virus infection. Still others are from nerve compression, like carpal tunnel syndrome or thoracic outlet syndrome. In some cases, like complex regional pain syndromeand brachial plexus injuries, the problem begins after an injury. Some people are born with peripheral nerve disorders.


 

Causes of acquired peripheral neuropathy include:

Physical injury (trauma) 

  • Injury or sudden trauma
  • Repetitive stress 

 Diseases or disorders 

  • Metabolic and endocrine disorders 
  •  Small vessel disease 
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Kidney disorders 
  •  Cancers 
  •  Neuromas 
  •  Infections 

 Exposure to toxins

  • Medication toxicity 
  •  Environmental or industrial toxins 
  • Heavy alcohol consumption 

 

Genetic mutations can either be inherited or arise de novo, meaning they are completely new mutations to an individual and are not passed along by either parent. Some genetic mutations lead to mild neuropathies with symptoms that begin in early adulthood and result in little, if any, significant impairment. More severe hereditary neuropathies often appear in infancy or childhood.

Advances in genetic testing in the last decade have led to significant strides in the ability to identify the genetic causes underlying peripheral neuropathies. 

Symptoms often start gradually, and then get worse. They include

  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Burning or tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sensitivity to touch

Treatment aims to treat any underlying problem, reduce pain and control symptoms.

Before diagnosing peripheral neuropathy, your physician will review your medical history and conduct a physical exam and neurological evaluation.

A neurological evaluation, which consists of a number of simple and painless tests, is usually performed to diagnose peripheral neuropathy. Depending on your symptoms and outcome of the neurological evaluation, you may encounter other tests that can determine what type of peripheral neuropathy you have.

No medical treatments exist that can cure inherited peripheral neuropathy. However, there are therapies for many other forms.  In general, adopting healthy habits -- such as maintaining optimal weight, avoiding exposure to toxins, following a physician-supervised exercise program, eating a balanced diet, correcting vitamin deficiencies, and limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption -- can reduce the physical and emotional effects of peripheral neuropathy.  Systemic diseases frequently require more complex treatments.