What Is Peripheral Neuropathy and How Is It Treated?

It’s estimated that more than 20 million people in the United States suffer from some form of peripheral neuropathy: conditions that involve damage to the peripheral nervous system.

While you’re likely familiar with your body’s central nervous system (CNS), which involves the control center within the brain and spinal cord, you’re probably less familiar with the vast communication network known as the peripheral nervous system (PNS).

This network involves all the nerves that branch out from the brain and spinal cord and extend to other parts of the body including muscles and organs. When your feet get cold, for example, this sensory information is transmitted to the central nervous system via the peripheral nervous system.

These systems are like a complex communication network made up of cables or wires. When disease or damage affects the cables (neuropathy), complex functions can be disrupted or completely devastated.

Most neuropathies are acquired, which means there’s no way to know who will or won’t be affected at birth. Acquired peripheral neuropathies are usually caused by:

  • Physical injury or trauma
  • Diabetes
  • Body-wide autoimmune diseases
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Kidney and liver dysfunction
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Infections
  • Chemotherapy drugs; or
  • Certain cancers

There Are Different Types of Peripheral Neuropathy…

There are more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy. However, there are only a few types of nerves—which nerves are damaged and how they were damaged often dictate symptoms and diagnosis.

  • Motor nerves are responsible for movements under conscious control like walking or grabbing an object.
  • Sensory nerves communicate information like pain, pleasure, and temperature.
  • Autonomic nerves regulate body functions that are not under conscious control like breathing and digesting food. 

Although rarely life threatening, peripheral neuropathy can involve neuropathic pain and chronic pain, usually in the hands or feet. In some cases, pain or discomfort can hinder daily activities or occupational responsibilities. 

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy range from mild to severe and are related to the type of nerve(s) affected.

For example, motor nerve damage may present as muscle fatigue or muscle cramping. Damage to sensory nerves, which manage a wide range of important functions, can result in sensation loss, diminished reflexes, or weakened balance. Autonomicnerve damage symptoms might include excess sweating or gastrointestinal symptoms.

Because peripheral neuropathy can present a wide and complex array of symptoms, peripheral neuropathy can be very challenging to diagnose.

Fortunately, unlike nerve cells in the CNS, peripheral nerve cells continue to grow throughout life, meaning, some symptoms or conditions can resolve on their own without medical intervention.

How Is Peripheral Neuropathy Diagnosed?

Like most visits to the doctor’s office, diagnosis typically begins with a review of the patient’s medical history. Occupation, lifestyle, and family history are common points of interest.

Next, physical and neurological exams can provide preliminary clues to help inform a diagnosis or custom treatment plan. Body fluid tests like a blood draw may be ordered to detect organ dysfunction, vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, infections, or signs of abnormal immune system activity. Genetic testing is typically reserved for patients at risk of hereditary neuropathies, which are extremely rare.

Radiology imaging tests including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) scans can be ordered to identify nerve root compression (i.e., pinched nerve) tumors, herniated disks, vascular irregularities, and other abnormalities.

At Colorado Springs Neurological Associates (CSNA), we’re able to offer patients advanced study options including Nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV) and Electromyography (EMG) testing.

The purpose of our EMG/NCV study is to provide information to your doctor regarding the health of your nerves and muscles.

What Treatments are Available to Treat Peripheral Neuropathy?

Our team of skilled neurologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and managing neurological disorders or diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system.

In addition to diagnosing peripheral neuropathy, our team can recommend a custom treatment plan. This might include over-the-counter pain relievers to treat mild discomfort as well as pharmaceutical therapies for moderate to severe pain.

If pain or discomfort caused by peripheral neuropathy is keeping you from enjoying activities or presents challenges to daily life, our neurological specialists can help.

Contact our office to schedule an appointment or to learn more about our custom treatment plans. Call 719-473-3272 today or contact our Colorado Springs office online.

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