Factors that may contribute to the development of peripheral nerve disorders
This group of disorders may be either inherited or acquired. Many factors can contribute to developing peripheral nerve disorders, including physical injury, exposure to toxins, autoimmune responses, vitamin deficiencies (E, B1, B6, B12), infections, and alcohol consumption.
Other underlying conditions, including diabetes, kidney disorders, tumors, and hypothyroidism, may cause nerve damage. Certain medications may also result in nerve disorders and sometimes the cause of these disorders is not known.
Peripheral nerve disorders can affect one nerve (mononeuropathy) or multiple nerves (polyneuropathy). A common example is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, a mononeuropathy caused by entrapment of the median nerve at the wrist.
Damage to multiple peripheral nerves is more common than damage to a single nerve.
Ways in which peripheral nerve disorders can manifest themselves
Because each nerve has a specific role in the body, peripheral nerve disorders can manifest in many different ways.
Symptoms of peripheral nerve disorders vary depending on which nerves are affected and are limited to the distribution of these specific nerves. Common symptoms include muscle weakness, loss of sensation, paralysis, tingling, numbness, sharp or burning pain, and abnormal sensations.
These symptoms often affect the hands and feet symmetrically. If nerves controlling autonomic functions are damaged, body functions such as heart rate and digestion may be affected. Generally, symptoms are mild when they begin, but become more severe over time.
Diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy
Diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy requires a medical history and physical examination. Other tests may be required to determine how the nerves became damaged.
Possible further testing might include blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans, electromyography, nerve conduction studies, or a nerve biopsy. Different types of peripheral nerve disorders may need different tests to be accurately diagnosed.
The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms. Peripheral nerve disorders can sometimes be managed with self-care measures. Chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, exercise, and decreasing exposure to alcohol and cigarettes may be effective.
Moderate pain can be controlled with over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatories. Prescription medications, including narcotics, antiepileptics, and antidepressants may be helpful.
Other possible treatments may include blood transfusions, nerve blocks, and transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation.
If any underlying disorders are contributing to nerve damage, these should be addressed as part of treatment. For example, controlling diabetes can limit the effect of diabetic nerve damage.
If the nerve disorder is caused by entrapment, as in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, then physical therapy, injections, or surgery may prove effective. Treatment for various types of peripheral nerve disorders is currently a subject of medical research.