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Peripheral Neuropathy

The medical term for damage to nerves of the peripheral nervous system is peripheral neuropathy, which may be caused either by diseases of the nerve or from the side-effects of systemic illness. Peripheral neuropathies vary in their presentation and origin, and may affect the nerve or the neuromuscular junction.

Major causes of peripheral neuropathy include nutritional deficiencies, HIV, and seizures, though diabetes is the most common cause.

Mechanical pressure from staying in one position for too long, a tumor, intraneural hemorrhage, exposing the body to extreme conditions such as radiation, cold temperatures, or toxic substances can also cause peripheral neuropathy.

Many of the diseases of the peripheral nervous system may present similarly to muscle problems (myopathies), and so it is important to develop approaches for assessing sensory and motor disturbances in patients so that a physician may make an accurate diagnosis.

Peripheral neuropathies may either be symmetrical and generalized or focal and multifocal, which is usually a good indicator of the cause of the peripheral nerve disease.

generalized peripheral neuropathy

Generalized peripheral neuropathies are symmetrical, and usually due to various systematic illnesses and disease processes that affect the peripheral nervous system in its entirety. They are further subdivided into several categories:

  • Distal axonopathies are the result of some metabolic or toxic derangement of neurons. They may be caused by metabolic diseases such as diabetes, renal failure, deficiency syndromes such as malnutrition and alcoholism, or the effects of toxins or drugs.
  • Myelinopathies are due to a primary attack on myelin causing an acute failure of impulse conduction. The most common cause is acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP; aka Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome), though other causes include chronic inflammatory demyelinating syndrome (CIDP), genetic metabolic disorders (e.g., leukodystrophiy), or toxins.
  • Neuronopathies are the result of destruction of peripheral nervous system (PNS) neurons. They may be caused by motor neurone diseases, sensory neuronopathies (e.g., Herpes zoster), toxins or autonomic dysfunction. Neurotoxins may cause neuronopathies, such as the chemotherapy agent vincristine.

signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy

Those with diseases or dysfunctions of their peripheral nerves can present with problems in any of the normal peripheral nerve functions.

In terms of sensory function, there are commonly loss of function (negative) symptoms, which include numbness, tremor, and gait imbalance.

Gain of function (positive) symptoms include tingling, pain, itching, crawling, and pins and needles.

Motor symptoms include loss of function (negative) symptoms of weakness, tiredness, heaviness, and gait abnormalities; and gain of function (positive) symptoms of cramps, tremor, and fasciculations.

There is also pain in the muscles (myalgia), cramps, etc., and there may also be autonomic dysfunction.

During physical examination, those with generalized peripheral neuropathies symptoms, most commonly have distal sensory or motor and sensory loss, though those with a pathology (problem) of the peripheral nerves may be perfectly normal; may show proximal weakness, as in some inflammatory neuropathies like Guillain-Barré syndrome); or may show focal sensory disturbance or weakness, such as in mononeuropathies, radiculopathies and plexopathies.

Common disorders of the peripheral nerves include focal entrapment neuropathies (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome), generalized peripheral neuropathies (e.g., diabetic neuropathy), plexopathies (e.g., brachial neuritis) and radiculopathies (e.g., of cranial nerve VII; Facial nerve).

Posted by Staff at June 7, 2005 10:19 PM

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