Peripheral neuropathy describes a range of conditions marked by damage to the peripheral nerves (i.e. nerves in the periphery of the central nervous system or outside it). The peripheral nerves transmit signals between the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the rest of the body.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders , over 20 million people living in the United States have peripheral neuropathy. The disorder is caused by a variety of underlying conditions, most notably diabetes. It can also result from physical injuries that affect the nerves, metabolic problems, vascular problems, infections that attack nerve tissues or trigger autoimmune attacks on the nerves, and exposure to toxic chemicals.
It may affect only one nerve or several at a time. When it affects one nerve, it is called mononeuropathy. If more than one nerve in different parts of the body is affected, it is referred to as multiple neuropathy. Polyneuropathy, what the condition is called when most nerves of the body are affected, is the most common form of peripheral neuropathy.
The peripheral nerves control a range of functions in the body, so the specific symptoms people experience depend on the location and extent of the damage. Generally, the condition is characterized by weakness, pain, and numbness in different parts of the body, especially the hands and feet. This article examines the symptoms often associated with peripheral neuropathy.