Peripheral Neuropathy is a chronic painful condition that result when nerves that connect to the brain and spinal cord from the rest of the body are damaged or diseased. There are many different kinds of peripheral neuropathy with many different causes. The range from carpal tunnel syndrome (an injury common after chronic repetitive use of the hands and wrists, such as computer use) to Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare, sudden paralysis). As a group, peripheral neuropathies are common, especially among people over the age of 55. All together, the conditions affect 3% to 4% of people in this group. Neuropathies are typically classified according to the problems they cause or what is at the root of the damage. There also are terms that express how extensively the nerves have been damaged.
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?
Many things can cause peripheral neuropathies so it is often difficult to know the cause. Neuropathies occur by one of three methods:
1) Acquired neuropathies are caused by environmental factors such as toxins, trauma, illness, or infection. Known causes of acquired neuropathies include: Diabetes, several rare inherited diseases, alcoholism, poor nutrition or vitamin deficiency, herniated discs in the back, certain kinds of cancer, conditions where nerves are mistakenly attacked by the body’s own immune system or damaged by an overaggressive response to injury, certain medications, kidney or thyroid disease, and nfections such as Lyme disease, shingles, or AIDS.
2) Hereditary neuropathies are not as common. Hereditary neuropathies are diseases of the peripheral nerves that are genetically passed from parent to child. The most common of these is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1. It is characterized by weakness in the legs and, to a lesser degree, the arms — symptoms that usually appear between mid-childhood and age 30. This disease is caused by degeneration of the insulation that normally surrounds the nerves and helps them conduct the electrical impulses needed for them to trigger muscle movement.
3) Idiopathic neuropathies are from an unknown cause. As many as one-third of all neuropathies are classified in this way.