Peripheral neuropathy is a broad term that denotes damage to or degeneration of the parts of the nervous system that extend out from the spinal cord and innervate the arms and legs (the periphery of the body), the peripheral nervous system. These peripheral elements of the nervous system are distinct and separate from the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).
This condition can be widespread and affect all peripheral nerves or it can be localized affecting only one or just a few peripheral nerves. It can affect motor nerves (connected to muscles for strength and movement), sensory nerves (connected to skin and joints to perceive sensation, pain and movement) or autonomic nerves (nerve that regulated automatic bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, sweating and intestines). This condition can alter sensation, movement, balance, gait, strength, coordination, and autonomic control. Patients may experience numbness, tingling, strange sensations, weakness, pain, gait difficulty, and loss of balance or coordination.
Treatment options depend on the type of neuropathy and underlying causes. Treatment options may include physical therapy, medication, nutritional supplements, discontinuation of alcohol ingestion, immune modulation therapy, and surgery. Use of a cane, walker or wheelchair may be necessary during the course of the illness due to gait instability and the risk of fall-related injury.
To determine the type of neuropathy, location, and extent of nerve damage, the patient will usually undergo a nerve conduction and electromyography test (EMG test). Most cases of peripheral neuropathy can be treated and may be considered reversible to a great extent, however some cases may be considered progressive and permanent.