About peripheral neuropathy
The nervous system is made up of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. Sometimes cancer or its treatment can damage the nervous system. Damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system is called peripheral neuropathy.
The peripheral nervous system
The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves that lie outside 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
Causes of peripheral neuropathy
Over time, the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage the nerves. 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
a viral infection such as shingles
a side effect of certain medications or drinking too much alcohol
People who are known to be at an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy may have regular check-ups so their nerve function can be assessed.
Treating peripheral neuropathy
Treatment for peripheral neuropathy depends on the symptoms and underlying cause.
Only some of the underlying causes of neuropathy can be treated. For example, if you have diabetes it may help to gain better control of your blood 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.