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Peripheral neuropathy (PN) affects two million people in the U.S.   typically middle-aged and elderly individuals.  It is a neurological disorder that affects the sensory, motor and/or autonomic nerves, and is caused by abnormal function of these nerves due to various etiologies.  Your peripheral nervous system includes nerves in your face, arms, legs, torso, and some nerves in your skull.  In fact, all of your nerves not located in your central nervous system — which includes the brain and the spinal cord — are peripheral nerves.  Simply put, peripheral neuropathy is a “sickness” of the nerves causing them to work improperly.

Neuropathies may affect just one nerve (mononeuropathy) or several nerves (polyneuropathy).  Your nerves provide communication between your brain and your muscles, skin, internal organs and blood vessels.  When damaged, your nerves can’t communicate properly, and that miscommunication causes symptoms such as pain or numbness.

These disorders can originate from numerous causes, such as diabetes, alcoholism, HIV, toxin exposure, metabolic abnormalities, vitamin deficiency, or adverse effects of certain drugs.  However, after evaluations for the etiologies of these PNs are performed, 32-70% of all peripheral neuropathies remain idiopathic (have no known medical cause). With the development of autoimumme and genetic tests, these idiopathic peripheral neuropathies can often be diagnosed through extensive testing.

Treating the underlying condition may relieve some cases of peripheral neuropathy.  In other cases, treatment of peripheral neuropathy may focus on managing pain. Peripheral nerves have a remarkable ability to regenerate themselves, and new treatments for peripheral neuropathy using nerve growth factors or gene therapy may offer even better chances for recovery in the future.


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