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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.
Complications of Peripheral Neuropathy
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
It's not always easy to pinpoint the cause of peripheral neuropathy, because a number of factors can cause neuropathies. These factors include:
Signs & 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:
Diagnosis of Peripheral Neuropathy
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.
Your doctor may also request blood tests to check your:
This test measures the electrical signals in peripheral nerves, and the transfer of that signal to muscles. As a part of this test, you'll be asked to have a nerve conduction study, which measures how quickly your nerves carry electrical signals. A nerve conduction study can be used to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome and other peripheral nerve disorders.
Additionally, your doctor may recommend a nerve biopsy, a procedure in which a small portion of a nerve is removed and examined for abnormalities. But even a nerve biopsy may not always reveal what's damaging your nerves.
Your doctor may also request a CT scan or MRI to look for herniated disks, tumors or other abnormalities.
Treatments of Peripheral Neuropathy
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:
Prevention of Peripheral Neuropathy
Manage underlying conditions
The best way to prevent peripheral neuropathy is to carefully manage any medical condition that puts you at risk. That means controlling your blood sugar level if you have diabetes or talking to your doctor about safe and effective treatments if you think you may have a problem with alcohol.
Adopt healthy lifestyle habits
Whether or not you have a medical condition, eating healthy diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein can help keep your nerves healthy. For example, nerve damage is common if you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency. The best a food sources of vitamin B-12 are meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy foods and fortified cereals. If you're a strict vegetarian, fortified cereals are a good source of vitamin B-12 for you, but you may also want to talk to your doctor about B-12 supplements. Regular exercise also is important. If possible, try to get at least 30 minutes to one hour of exercise at least three times a week.
As much as possible, avoid things that can cause nerve damage, such as:
When to seek Medical Advice
Seek medical care right away if you notice any unusual tingling, weakness or pain in your hands or feet. Early diagnosis and treatment offers the best chance for controlling your symptoms and preventing further damage to your peripheral nerves. If your symptoms are interfering with your sleep or you feel depressed, your doctor or pain specialist may be able to suggest treatments that can help.
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