Neuropathy is the medical term for a condition in which there are problems with nerves in the body; either they have been damaged or are affected by a disease. Usually, neuropathy affects the peripheral nervous system rather than the central nervous system (brain and spine). As of December 2014, the National Institutes of Health estimated that peripheral neuropathy affects about 20 million people in the U.S.
Types of Neuropathy
In the peripheral nervous system, there are three primary types of nerves:
- Sensory nerves control the senses and the body's interpretation of different sensations.
- Motor nerves control muscle movement and power.
- Autonomic nerves control bodily systems like the gastrointestinal and urinary systems.
If only a single nerve is affected, it's called mononeuropathy. If several nerves are affected, it's called polyneuropathy.
Causes of Neuropathy
As much as 30% of neuropathy cases have no known causes, called idiopathic neuropathy. The most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes; prolonged high blood sugar eventually damages the walls of blood vessels, and the small vessels in the hands and feet show signs of damage first. Other possible causes of neuropathy include:
- Vitamin deficiencies (especially vitamin B12)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Chronic kidney or liver disease
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Connective tissue diseases
- Inflammatory conditions
- Autoimmune disorders
- Pressure on a nerve
- Bone marrow disorders