Neuropathy is a group of disorders that occur when the nerves of the peripheral nervous system are damaged. The peripheral nervous system is that part of the nervous system that is outside the brain and spinal cord. Most physicians call it peripheral neuropathy. It is most commonly due to damage of the nerve axons. The usual symptoms are numbness in the hands and feet. A common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes.

Neuropathy can affect the nerves that control muscle movements or those that detect sensations such as heat or cold. Autonomic neuropathy affects internal organs such as the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, or bladder. The pain from neuropathy is often described as a tingling or burning sensation. The length of time that the pain lasts varies but usually improves over time – especially if the neuropathy was due to a condition that could be cured. The condition can be caused by poor nutrition, several different diseases, and trauma or pressure to an area of the body. However, sometimes there is no known reason for the neuropathy. In these cases, it is called idiomatic neuropathy.

Within the United States, over 20 million people suffer from neuropathy. Half of all diabetics have the condition.


This condition can be classified into three different types:

  • Mononeuropathy – involvement of a single nerve. Examples are carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar nerve palsy, radial nerve palsy, and peroneal nerve palsy.
  • Multiple Mononeuropathy – two or more nerves individually affected
  • Polyneuropathy – generalized involvement of peripheral nerves. Examples include diabetic neuropathy and Guillian-Barre Syndrome.

Neuropathies may also be classified according to nerve type (motor, sensory, autonomic, or mixed) or by duration (acute – hours or days, subacute – weeks or months, and chronic – months or years). The most common type of neuropathy is called peripheral (symmetrical) neuropathy. This type affects the feet and legs of both sides of the body.


There are several types of people whose risk factors for neuropathy are high. Those with diabetes who poorly control their blood sugar will likely develop the disease. Also, those having autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis increase the risk of getting neuropathy. People who have organ transplants, AIDS, or other immune system suppression have higher risk to develop this condition. Additionally, those who abuse alcohol or have a vitamin deficiency have an increased risk.

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