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Home > Polyneuropathy – What is it and how is it Caused?

Polyneuropathy – What is it and how is it Caused?

Jenny L. F. Andrus, MD

As an Interventional Pain Management Physician, I frequently treat patients for nerve-related pain from a variety of causes and conditions, and sometimes for undetermined reasons.  Some patients are affected by pain which comes from multiple nerves that are damaged, impinged or which simply malfunction in different parts of the body, anywhere a peripheral nerve is located.  Peripheral nerves are all those beyond the brain and the spinal cord, which carry brain signals to the internal organs, muscles, glands and skin and can impact swallowing or breathing.  This disorder is called polyneuropathy and I will discuss its causes, symptoms, and how it is diagnosed and treated, in a series of articles.

Polyneuropathy is classified as a subgroup of peripheral neuropathies and is quite common.  There are three types of polyneuropathies:  acquired, hereditary or idiopathic (unknown cause).  Here is a brief description of each type which also describes the causes:

Acquired polyneuropathies are typically caused by a disease process, such as diabetes, or Guillain-Barre’, toxins, traumatic injuries, auto-immune diseases, acquired gene mutations (rare), poor nutrition, alcoholism, cancer or kidney disease, etc. that impacts the nervous system.

Hereditary polyneuropathies are typically a gene passed through family members that affects the functioning of the peripheral nerves, such as Charcot Marie Tooth disease, which can cause degeneration of the nerves and muscles in the hands and feet, arms and legs.  The disease can also be acquired by those with diabetes.

Idiopathic polyneuropathies are those nerve malfunctions or issues that cannot be traced to or pinned on a specific disease or trauma, but just seemingly occur without cause.  These tend to happen in the senior population more frequently and take longer to develop.

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