Neuropathy – Types, Causes, and Symptoms


Neuropathy is a condition or a disease where the nerves are affected by either a disease or a malfunction. An injury or disease anywhere in the body can damage the nerves as they are present everywhere in the body taking the signals from central nervous system (that is located in the brain) and sending it to the end organ that has to act or react. Neuropathy is often classified based on the nerves that are affected because of an injury or a disease. Neuropathy affects around 8 percent of people after they turn 55.

Here are some types of neuropathy that you should know of to be able to identify the problem based on the causes and symptoms:

Peripheral neuropathy – When there is a problem in the nerves and the effect is seen on the nerves that are outside the brain and spinal cord, it is called peripheral neuropathy. You can identify this with neuropathy symptoms like weakness, numbness, and pain in the feet and hands. At times, it may also affect other body parts as well.

Proximal neuropathy – There are twelve cranial nerves. When any one of the nerves gets damages, it can cause proximal neuropathy. Cranial nerves come straight out of the brain and hence cause damage in these nerves which in turn can cause problems like Bell’s palsy and third, fourth, and sixth nerve palsy in which your eyes are affected. Proximal neuropathy symptoms can be found out by noticing the functioning of eyes and ears, and if there is abnormality felt, it could mean that one of the cranial nerves are impacted.

Autonomic neuropathy – There are nerves in the involuntary nervous system and when there is damage to those nerves, one suffers from autonomic neuropathy. Functions that are controlled by these nerves include blood circulation, digestion, bowel function, bladder function, perspiration, and sexual response. Autonomic neuropathy can also impact nerves in other organs.

Focal neuropathy – When the impact is focused on one nerve or a group of nerves of an affected area of the body, it is called focal neuropathy. This is mostly impacted due to diabetes.

All aforementioned neuropathy symptoms are a part of the peripheral nervous system, and therefore, a part of peripheral neuropathy.

The common causes of neuropathy are:
In some cases, it can be inherited from birth while in some it is developed later in life.

  • Kidney disorders can cause neuropathy as this disorder lets high-level of nerve-damaging toxic substance in the blood.
  • Toxics exposure from heavy metals can cause neuropathy. The metals include arsenic lead, thallium, and mercury.
  • There are certain medicines/drugs that can cause neuropathy. These drugs include anticancer medications, antivirals, antibiotics, and anticonvulsants.
  • Liver diseases can cause chemical imbalance and that can be one of the causes of neuropathy.
  • Excess consumption of alcohol can lead to neuropathy.
  • Blood diseases.
  • Cancer and tumors.
  • Vitamin deficiencies.
  • Hormonal diseases.
  • Chronic inflammation.
  • Accidents where the nerves suffer a sudden and direct blow or trauma.
  • Virus and bacterial infections like HIV, shingles, leprosy, Lyme disease, Epstein Barr virus, Diphtheria, etc.
  • Autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.

Some of the common neuropathic symptoms are as follows:
In cases other than peripheral neuropathy, the symptoms include a tingling sensation in the foot and toes that spread gradually.
One of the most common neuropathic symptoms is muscle weakness. Though here are some other symptoms as well:

  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle twitching
  • Muscle loss
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Changes in nails, hair, and skin.

When sensory nerves are impacted, the neuropathic symptoms include:

  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Numbness
  • Affected reflexes
  • Burning sensations
  • Nerve pain (these are intense pain)
  • Hypersensitivity (to touch, or pain) or the inability to feel pain
  • Tingling sensations (pins and needles)—this is also a common and almost daily sensation that you may feel when you sit or lie in a certain position for too long.

Autonomic neuropathy symptoms include:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Difficulty while eating and swallowing
  • Incontinence
  • Slow heart rate
  • Abnormal changes in blood pressure
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Excess sweating or no sweating
  • Dry eyes and mouth.

Diagnosis of neuropathy upon identifying neuropathic symptoms:
Once you identify some of many neuropathy symptoms, you can confirm it by means of proper diagnosis which include:

  • A physical examination of the causes and symptoms of neuropathy.
  • Blood tests; it is one of the most useful means of diagnosis as it reveals most of the information and is highly precise.
  • Lumbar puncture is done to see if there is any disease associated with neuropathy.
  • Since neuropathy impacts the sensory nerves, sensory nerves are tested in the diagnosis to see if there have been any diseases associated with neuropathy.
  • Muscles tests are taken to see the intensity of neuropathy.
  • Tests for tumors.
  • Tests for other abnormalities.

Treatment for neuropathy:
If neuropathy is caused due to the presence of other diseases and medical conditions, then the treatment would involve curing the underlying disease. Otherwise, the treatment focuses on fixing the problem directly with the help of some medications and/or injections.