The Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy by Dr Jenny Andrus

Orthopaedic & Spine Center

OSC’s Dr Jenny Andrus, an Interventional Pain Management specialist covers the causes of Peripheral Neuropathy

In my last blog post, I gave a brief anatomy lesson regarding the nervous system and defined Peripheral Neuropathy.  In this post, I will detail the causes and symptoms of PN.

What causes peripheral neuropathy?

We know that damage to the peripheral nerves causes peripheral neuropathy.  However, it is not always easy to pinpoint the exact cause of peripheral neuropathy, because a number of factors can cause neuropathies. These include:

  • Diabetes
    • The most common cause of peripheral neuropathy. Prolonged exposure to high blood glucose, long duration of diabetes, abnormal blood fat levels, and possibly low levels of insulin all cause nerve damage. At least half of all people with diabetes develop some type of neuropathy.
  • Autoimmune disorders
    • such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Infections
    • such as HIV
  • Low levels of vitamin B12 or other vitamin deficiencies
  • Underactive thyroid gland
  • Heavy exposure to toxins
    •  such as lead, mercury and solvents
  • Alcoholism – prolonged heavy use of alcohol can cause nerve damage
  • Some medications that treat infections, cancer, seizures, and high blood pressure may cause nerve damage
  • Exposure to cold temperatures for an extended period of time
  • Pressure from bad-fitting casts, splints, a brace, or crutches can damage a nerve

What are the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy?

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:

  • Numbness, tingling
  • Burning, pins and needles sensation
  • Loss of sensation to touch
  • Loss of positional sense (knowing where a body part is without looking)
  • Weakness

These symptoms can increase risk of injury to the affected limb. You may lose feeling in your legs and arms, so you may not notice when you touch something that is too hot or cold, making you more susceptible to burns. The reduced feeling may also cause you to not know when you have a small blister or sore on your feet or when you step on something sharp. These can raise your risk of serious infection.

Damage to the nerves can make it harder to control your muscles and can cause weakness. You may fall, because your legs buckle or you may trip over your own toes. A fall can cause much larger problems, including broken bones or a concussion.

In my next post, I will outline how I diagnose Peripheral Neuropathy in the patients who come to see me with chronic pain.

Jenny L. Andrus, MD, is a Fellowship-trained, Board-certified, Interventional Pain Management Specialist who practices at Orthopaedic & Spine Center in Newport News, VA.  For more information about Dr. Andrus and her practice, go to www.osc-ortho.comFor an appointment, call 757-596-1900.