Peripheral neuropathy often causes numbness and pain in your hands and feet. People typically describe the pain of peripheral neuropathy as tingling or burning, while they may compare the loss of sensation to the feeling of wearing a thin stocking or glove.
Peripheral neuropathy is caused by nerve damage. It can result from such problems as traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems and exposure to toxins. One of the most common causes is diabetes.
In many cases, peripheral neuropathy symptoms improve with time — especially if it's caused by an underlying condition that can be treated. A number of medications are often used to reduce the painful symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
Your nervous system is divided into two broad categories. Your central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord. All the other nerves in your body are part of your peripheral nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy affects those nerves, which include:
Most commonly, peripheral neuropathy may start in the longest nerves — the ones that reach to your toes. Specific symptoms vary, depending on which types of nerves are affected. Signs and symptoms may include:
When to see a doctor
It's not always easy to pinpoint the cause of peripheral neuropathy, because a number of factors can cause neuropathies. These factors include:
Peripheral neuropathy risk factors include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, you may then be referred to a doctor who specializes in nervous system disorders (neurologist).
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to arrive well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For peripheral neuropathy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Peripheral neuropathy isn't a single disease, but rather a symptom with many potential causes. For that reason it can be difficult to diagnose. To help in the diagnosis, your doctor will likely take a full medical history and perform a physical and neurological exam that may include checking your tendon reflexes, your muscle strength and tone, your ability to feel certain sensations, and your posture and coordination.
Treatments and drugs
One goal of treatment is to manage the condition causing your neuropathy. If the underlying cause is corrected, the neuropathy often improves on its own. Another goal of treatment is to relieve the painful symptoms. Many types of medications can be used to relieve the pain of peripheral neuropathy:
Lifestyle and home remedies
The following suggestions can help you manage peripheral neuropathy:
Some people with peripheral neuropathy try alternative treatments for relief of their symptoms. Although these techniques haven't been as rigorously studied as most medications, the following therapies have shown some promise in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy:
Manage underlying conditions
Adopt healthy lifestyle habits
As much as possible, avoid things that can cause nerve damage, such as:
Last Updated: 2009-11-03
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