Peripheral Neuropathy: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

What are the causes of peripheral neuropathy?

People who have a family history of peripheral neuropathy are more likely to develop the disorder. However, a variety of factors and underlying conditions may also cause this condition.

Generalized diseases

Nerve damage caused by diabetes is one of the most common forms of neuropathy. This leads to numbness, pain, and a loss of sensation in the extremities. The risk of neuropathy increases for people who:

  • are overweight
  • have high blood pressure
  • are over the age of 40
  • have diabetes

According to the University of Chicago’s Center for Peripheral Neuropathy (UCCPN), nearly 60 percent of people with diabetes have some sort of nerve damage. This damage is often due to high blood sugar levels.

Other chronic diseases that may cause nerve damage include:

  • kidney disorders in which high amount of toxins build up in the body and damage nerve tissue
  • hypothyroidism, which occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, leading to fluid retention and pressure surrounding nerve tissues
  • diseases that cause chronic inflammation and can spread to the nerves or damage connective tissue surrounding nerves
  • deficiencies of vitamins E, B-1, B-6, and B-12, which are essential to nerve health and functioning

Injury

Physical trauma is the most common cause of injury to the nerves. This can include car accidents, falls, or fractures. Inactivity, or holding still too long in one position, can also cause neuropathy. Increased pressure on the median nerve, a nerve in the wrist that supplies feeling and movement to the hand, causes carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a common type of peripheral neuropathy.

Alcohol and toxins

Alcohol can have a toxic effect on nerve tissue, putting people with severe alcoholism at a higher risk of peripheral neuropathy.

Exposure to toxic chemicals like glue, solvents, or insecticides, either through chemical abuse or in the workplace, can also cause nerve damage. Additionally, exposure to heavy metals such as lead and mercury can also cause this condition.

Infections and autoimmune disorders

Certain viruses and bacteria directly attack nerve tissue.

Viruses such as herpes simplex, varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and shingles, and Epstein-Barr virus damage sensory nerves and cause intense episodes of shooting pain.

Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease can also cause nerve damage and pain if they aren’t treated. People with HIV or AIDS can also develop peripheral neuropathy.

Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus affect the peripheral nervous system in various ways. Chronic inflammation and damage to tissues throughout the body, as well as pressure caused by inflammation, can all lead to severe nerve pain in the extremities.