Types of Neuropathy and What to Do About It

Tingling, numbness, pain, and muscle weakness are hallmark symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage, a common problem that affects an estimated 25-30% of people in the United States at some point in their lives. 

Neuropathy is a broad term that covers different types of nerve damage. All neuropathies can be categorized by the number of nerves they affect — mononeuropathies affect just one nerve, while polyneuropathies affect multiple nerves. They’re further classified by which kind of nerves (motor, sensory, or autonomic) they affect most. 

If you’ve been living with persistent tingling, numbness, weakness or pain, Luay Shayya, MD, can help. A board-certified neurologist and neuromuscular medicine specialist practicing at Neurology Consultants of Arizona, in Scottsdale, Dr. Shayya specializes in diagnosing all types of neuropathy and providing targeted treatment solutions that deliver long-lasting relief. Here’s what you should know.  

Peripheral neuropathy basics

Neuropathy, also known as peripheral neuropathy, describes damage that affects any part of your peripheral nervous system, or the vast messaging network that transmits vital information from your brain and spine (central nervous system) to your body, and vice versa. 

Your peripheral nervous system plays an integral role in virtually all body processes, ranging from sensory input and voluntary motor actions like muscle movement to autonomic functions such as digestion, temperature regulation, heart rate, and blood pressure. 

When peripheral nerves are damaged, they can’t carry clear, complete messages to and from your central nervous system. Many causes of damage include physical trauma, an underlying health condition, a vitamin deficiency, or exposure to toxic substances.

These nerves may send improper signals, like static on a telephone line, or they may send distorted signals, like a wavy television picture. Or, like a severed wire, they may stop signaling entirely. Nerve damage can develop quickly, as is often the case with injury-induced neuropathy, or it may emerge gradually and continue to progress over time, as is often the case with diabetic neuropathy. 

Neuropathy types and symptoms

Although neuropathy is often defined by the nature and severity of the symptoms it produces, it’s initially categorized by the number of nerves it affects. The two main types of neuropathy are: 

Mononeuropathy

Mononeuropathy affects a single nerve or nerve group. Although this type of neuropathy is often a result of physical trauma or injury, it can also be a product of prolonged nerve pressure caused by spending too much time sitting in a chair or lying in bed. 

Local compression, chronic inflammation, and continuous or repetitive motions can contribute to the development of mononeuropathy as well. This is precisely how carpal tunnel syndrome — the most common form of mononeuropathy — typically develops. 

Mononeuropathy usually causes localized and radiating symptoms. When it affects the ulnar nerve in your elbow, you may experience numbness in your elbow and tingling in your ring and pinky fingers radiating from your elbow; when it affects the peroneal nerve below your knee, you may experience lower leg weakness that makes it hard to lift your foot. 

Neuropathy that affects two or more of the same type of nerve — such as having carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists — is known as multiple mononeuropathy.

Polyneuropathy

More often than not, neuropathy affects multiple nerves and nerve types, causing widespread dysfunction across your peripheral nervous system. Commonly known as polyneuropathy, this condition usually occurs when an underlying health problem causes many different peripheral nerves to malfunction at the same time. 

One of the most common forms of polyneuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, which affects up to 50% of people with diabetes. It usually starts as tingling and/or numbness in the feet and legs, and often progresses into burning pain or complete loss of sensation. Diabetic neuropathy can also lead to diminished coordination and serious foot problems, including chronic ulcers.     

Polyneuropathy symptoms may be mild and intermittent or severe and continuous, depending on the type, location, and extent of the nerves involved. Damage to motor nerves can affect your reflexes and movement, while sensory nerve damage can affect the sensations you feel as well as your sense of balance. 

Autonomic nerve damage can lead to an irregular heart rate, excessive sweating, bladder and bowel problems, persistent gastrointestinal symptoms, and rapid blood pressure changes that make you feel dizzy or lightheaded.

Neuropathy treatment solutions

Because most peripheral neuropathies can’t be cured or reversed, treatment aims to stop or limit its progression and provide lasting symptom relief so you can lead a normal, active life. 

After diagnosing the cause, type, and severity of your neuropathy, Dr. Shayya develops a comprehensive treatment plan just for you. If your problem is driven by an underlying health disorder like diabetes, keeping that condition under control is key to preventing further nerve damage. 

Most cases of neuropathy respond well to targeted lifestyle changes — many patients find that eating a nutritious diet, staying active, and losing excess weight can go a long way in keeping their neuropathy symptoms in check. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and mechanical aids like braces can also be helpful. 

Neurology Consultants of Arizona provides a full scope of treatment solutions for all types of neuropathy. To learn more, call our office today, or click online any time to schedule a visit with Dr. Shayya.

 

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