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Peripheral Neuropathy

What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

About 20 million Americans suffer from peripheral neuropathy, a general term for damage to nerves located outside the brain and spinal cord. Peripheral nerves carry messages between the central nervous system to the rest of the body, including arms and legs. Symptoms usually start gradually but worsen over time. They may include weakness, pain, tingling, and even varying degrees of paralysis.

Diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy, but infections, chronic diseases and a number of other disorders can result in nerve damage. Treatment options are varied, and specific symptoms can usually be improved. Some forms of nerve damage can be slowed with the proper medical care.

About the host: UTHealth Neurosciences neurologist Dr. Kristin Brown specializes in the diagnosis and management of polyneuropathy and other neuromuscular disorders. View her presentation on what polyneuropathy is, and its’ typical symptoms and treatment options.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

At UTHealth Neurosciences, our dedicated team uses the latest technology to accurately diagnose and treat each patient. We work in multidisciplinary teams of specialists who share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Causes of peripheral neuropathy

More than 100 different conditions can cause peripheral neuropathy. Diabetes is a leading cause, because high sugar levels can result in nerve damage in feet and legs. The majority of people with diabetes have some degree of nerve damage that can cause numbness, tingling, or burning feelings.

Physical injury can stretch, crush, or detach nerves, leading to an array of symptoms. Chemotherapy, hereditary disorders, inflammatory infections, autoimmune diseases, and exposure to certain toxic chemicals might also trigger the peripheral neuropathy. Certain medications, such as those used to treat cancer and HIV/AIDS, are known to cause peripheral neuropathy. Guillain-Barre syndrome is a peripheral neuropathy that causes the body’s immune system to attack nerves. In some cases, where the cause cannot be determined, the diagnosis is called idiopathic neuropathy.

Signs of peripheral neuropathy

If the damage affects motor nerves, a patient may notice muscle weakness, cramps, or twitching. If sensory nerves are damaged, patients may notice a decreased sensation of touch, loss of reflexes or an inability to feel changes in temperature. Damage to autonomic nerves might produce symptoms such as increased sweating, heat intolerance, and digestive issues. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating.


A neurologist will diagnose peripheral neuropathy by collecting medical history and performing physical, neurological, laboratory, and/or genetic tests. Doctors will check for diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, and other indicators. Nerve conduction studies and electromyography tests may be used to help gather more details on a patient’s nerve and muscle activity. Imaging tests, including a CT scan or MRI, might also be ordered.


Early diagnosis and treatment of the underlining medical condition is important because peripheral nerves have a limited capacity to regenerate, but treatment may help stop progression. Treatment will depend on the type of nerve damage, the symptoms, and the location. A doctor may prescribe medications, injections, physical therapy, nerve stimulation, plasma exchange, or surgery for compression-related neuropathy. Medications that might help relieve symptoms include pain relievers, anti-seizure medications, topical treatments, and antidepressants. Lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet, exercising, and limiting alcohol consumption, might also be recommended to help with prevention or recovery.

Nerve Disorders

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