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Peripheral Neuropathy


What is peripheral neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that affects nerves in your arms, legs, hands, or feet. It also may affect your organs, such as your lungs, stomach, bladder, or genitals. Peripheral neuropathy can affect the nerves that allow you to move or to feel objects. It also may affect nerves that control your body functions, such as digestion or urination. This condition may go away on its own, or you may always have it.

What causes peripheral neuropathy?

  • Any accident that causes nerve damage
  • A cast or a splint that puts pressure on and pinches nerves
  • Repeated movements, such as typing
  • Alcohol abuse
  • An infection such as herpes or Lyme disease
  • Health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, or lupus
  • Certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or surgery
  • Some medicines for heart conditions or HIV

What are the signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy?

  • Pain or tingling in your legs, feet, arms, or hands that may feel sharp, stabbing, or burning
  • Trouble walking or keeping your balance
  • Weakness or difficulty holding things
  • Loss of your sense of touch or numbness
  • Bruising easily
  • Trouble controlling your bladder or bowels or having sex

How is peripheral neuropathy diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. He or she may ask you about your other health conditions and about your family health history. Your provider may touch your skin in different areas with a cotton ball or a pin to check your sense of touch. He or she may also check how well you can feel hot and cold. Your provider will ask you to do simple movements. For example, he or she may ask you to walk or to move your fingers. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may be used to check for conditions that may be causing your peripheral neuropathy.
  • An electromyography (EMG) test measures the electrical activity of your muscles at rest and with movement.
  • Nerve conduction studies test how your nerves respond to stimulation. Electrodes (wires) are placed on affected areas of your body. They send electrical currents into the nerve to see how quickly it responds.
  • A nerve biopsy is used to take a sample of nerves to be tested.

How is peripheral neuropathy treated?

Treatment may help relieve your pain and help you function in your daily activities. Treatment of the condition causing the peripheral neuropathy may improve your symptoms. You may need the following:

  • Medicines may be given to help decrease nerve pain.
  • Physical and occupational therapists may help you exercise your arms, legs, and hands. They may teach you new ways to do things at home.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) stimulates your nerves and may decrease your pain. Wires are attached to pads. The pads are attached to your skin. The wires send a mild current through your nerves. Do not have TENS if you have a pacemaker or are pregnant.
  • A brace or splint helps support or hold an affected area still.

How can I manage peripheral neuropathy?

  • Prevent falls. Move with care and stand up slowly. Wear shoes that support your feet, and do not go barefoot. Ask about walking aids, such as a cane or walker. You may want to install railings or nonslip pads in your home, especially in the bathroom. Ask for more information on how to avoid falls.
    Fall Prevention for Adults
  • Check your skin daily. Sores can form where your skin makes contact with chairs, beds, or other body parts. They also can form under splints. Keep your skin clean, and check your skin daily for sores.
  • Exercise as directed. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Physical activity may increase your balance and strength and may decrease your pain. It is best to start exercising slowly and do more as you get stronger.
    Black Family Walking for Exercise

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You cannot walk at all.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You fall.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your pain is severe.
  • You cannot control your bladder.
  • You have trouble having sex.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Learn more about Peripheral Neuropathy

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Further information

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