Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the peripheral nerves which connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body) is a relatively common neurological disorder that can occur as the result of a wide range of underlying conditions or diseases. Diabetes is perhaps the most common - approximately 50 per cent of diabetics suffer from diabetic neuropathy. Other conditions that cause peripheral neuropathy include autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis; infections such as leprosy or AIDS; pressure on a nerve; certain toxic substances, including alcohol; vitamin deficiency; radiation; trauma (e.g. bone fractures or penetrative injuries); and tumours of the spinal cord. Inherited neuropathies such as Charcot Marie Tooth disease are also common. However, in many cases, no underlying disorder can be diagnosed.
Symptoms of the disorder vary in severity, according to the number of nerves affected. Symptoms may be limited to a single finger or toe, but generally, the arms or legs are affected, although rarely the whole body may be affected. Weakness and numbness in the affected limb or limbs may be accompanied by abnormal sensations (paresthesia) - i.e. tingling, "pins and needles", burning, pain etc. Frequently the symptoms are worse at night.
The condition is usually categorised according to the number of nerves that are affected:
- mononeuropathy involves a single nerve - eg. carpal tunnel syndrome;
- polyneuropathy occurs less frequently, but involves several peripheral nerves throughout the body.
In many cases, no underlying disorder can be found; however, recognised disorders include Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), Guillain-Barre Syndrome and diabetic neuropathy.
Information courtesy of the Brain Foundation.
This disease is being researched in the following projects: