What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

What is the peripheral nervous system?

The body’s nervous system is made up of two parts. The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) connects the nerves running from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body…the arms and hands, legs and feet, internal organs, joints and even the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, and skin.

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves are damaged or destroyed and can’t send messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, skin and other parts of the body. Peripheral nerves go from the brain and spinal cord to the arms, hands, legs, and feet. When damage occurs, numbness and pain in these areas may occur.

Peripheral neuropathy can affect multiple nerves (polyneuropathy) or only one nerve or nerve group (mononeuropathy) at a time.

Mononeuropathy is usually the result of damage to a single nerve or nerve group by trauma, injury, local compression, prolonged pressure, or inflammation.

Examples include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (a painful wrist and hand disorder often associated with repetitive tasks on a computer keyboard)
  • Bell’s palsy (a facial nerve disorder)

Small Fiber Neuropathy

In this type of neuropathy, the small sensory nerves and autonomic fibers are affected. Symptoms include numbness, burning, and pain, often starting in the feet. Although it can be caused by diabetes, small fiber neuropathy also has been linked to thyroid disease, chemotherapy (due to the toxins introduced into the body), dysfunction of connective tissues, and other causes. It can affect the digestive system, cause fatigue, and trigger chronic pain.

Consequently, it is sometimes misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia. For this reason, researchers are exploring effective screening options such as sensory testing and a skin biopsy using a sample taken from the lower leg in which the nerve fibers in the skin are counted.

Please click here to watch FPN’s webinar on Small Fiber Neuropathy featuring Amro Stino, MD. Webinar held live July 11, 2022.

room full of people listening to a lecture

The Nervous System

Cranial nerves

Cranial nerves go from your brain to your eyes, mouth, ears and other parts of your head.

Central nerves

Central nerves are in your brain and spinal cord.

Peripheral nerves

Peripheral nerves go from your spinal cord to your arms, hands, legs and feet.

Autonomic nerves

Autonomic nerves go from your spinal cord to your lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, bladder and sex organs.

Illustration of the nervous system

Learn more about peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy: What We Want You To Know

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