What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?


Peripheral neuropathy is a condition caused by damage to the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is the communications network that connects the central nervous system and all other parts of the body. Some 20 million people in the United States have some type of peripheral neuropathy. Symptoms can vary from numbness or tingling, to pricking sensations or muscle weakness. Severe symptoms include burning pain, muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction. In extreme cases, breathing may impeded, or your organs may fail.

Peripheral neuropathies may vary and follow distinct patterns. Symptoms may be experienced over a span of days, or for years. With acute neuropathies, symptoms may appear suddenly, progress rapidly, and resolve slowly. In chronic types, symptoms begin subtly and progress slowly. Though neuropathy may be painful and debilitating, it usually is not fatal.

Symptoms may be determined depending on which type of nerves are damaged. Motor nerves control voluntary movement of muscles. Sensory nerves deliver the feeling of a light touch or the pain of a cut. Autonomic nerves control organ activities that are automated such as breathing and digesting food. Some neuropathies may affect all three types of nerves while others only affect one or two types.

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