Peripheral neuropathydevelops when nerves in the body's extremities such asthe hands, feetand arms are damaged. The symptoms depend onwhich nerves are affected.

In the UK, it's estimated that almost1 in 10 peopleaged 55 or over are affected by some degree of peripheral neuropathy.

The peripheral nervous system

Theperipheral nervous system is the network of nerves that lieoutside the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).

It includes different types of nerves with their own specific functions, including:

  • sensory nerves responsible for transmitting sensations, such as pain and touch
  • motor nerves responsible for controlling muscles
  • autonomic nerves responsible for regulating automatic functions of the body, such as blood pressure and bladder function

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy

The main symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include:

  • numbness and tingling in the feet or hands
  • burning, stabbing or shooting pain in affected areas
  • loss of balance and co-ordination
  • muscle weakness, especially in the feet

These symptoms are usually constant, but may come and go.

You may be referred to hospital to see a neurologist(a specialist in conditions affecting the nervous system).

Generally, the sooner peripheral neuropathy is diagnosed, the better the chance of limiting the damage and preventing further complications.

This type of nerve damage is known as diabetic polyneuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy can also have a wide range of other causes. For example, it can be caused by:

  • physical injury to the nerves
  • aviral infection such as Shingles
  • a side effect of certain medications ordrinking too muchalcohol

People who are known to be at anincreased risk of peripheral neuropathy may have regular check-ups so their nerve function can be assessed.

For example, if you have diabetes it may help to gain better controlof yourblood sugar level, stop smoking and cut down on alcohol.

Nerve pain may be treated with prescribed medications called neuropathic pain agents, as standard painkillers are often ineffective.

If you have other symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy, these may need to be treated individually. For example, treatment for muscle weakness may involve physiotherapy and the use of walking aids.

Some cases may improve with time if the underlying cause is treated, whereasin some people the damage may be permanent or may get gradually worse with time.

If the underlying cause of peripheral neuropathy isn't treated, you may be at risk of developing potentially serious complications, such as a foot ulcer that becomes infected. This can lead to gangrene (tissue death) if untreated, and in severe cases may mean the affected foot has to be amputated.

Peripheral neuropathy mayaffect the nerves controlling the automatic functions of the heart and circulation system (cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy). You may need treatment to increase your blood pressure or,in rare cases, a pacemaker .


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 28 Nov 2016