Peripheral neuropathy is a disease category that includes any of a range of symptoms stemming from nerve injury or unusual nerve behavior. Neuropathy can range from disorienting to painful to debilitating, depending on the patient, the origins of the problem and the progression of the condition. Neuropathic symptoms can't automatically be attributed to a specific origin. Physicians must investigate the cause in each patient, and pain management specialists can often help address pain symptoms.
What is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is the term that describes and injury or disease affecting areas of the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord (hence the term 'peripheral'). Essentially any nerves outside these regions can theoretically be affected by a neuropathy.
What are the types of neuropathy?
Mononeuropathies are conditions affecting only a single nerve, such is in a patient's arm or foot.
Polyneuropathy occurs when multiple nerves misbehave simultaneously, often in disparate areas of the body, and in a way that appears linked.
The majority of neuropathies are 'acquired' induced by an external or environmental factor such as an infection, injury, poor nutrition or even a toxin. The rarer family of hereditary neuropathies are genetically inherited by children from parents. There can also be 'idiopathic' neuropathies -- in which the condition's etiology cannot be determined.
Overview of causes
Neuropathies can manifest in various ways, all depending upon the nerve/s affected and the cause of the nerve injury.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by frequent repetitive motion, such as heavy typing, and can cause serious pain, numbness or difficulty in hand and finger motions.
Other mononeuropathies can be caused by constant or repeated pressure on an area of the body -- such as ulnar nerve or radial nerve injury, which can be caused by frequent pressure on the elbows.
Polyneuropathies can be caused by a range of factors including certain viral infections, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune responses (in which the immune system misidentifies nerve cells as foreign pathogens), or diabetes or alcoholism, to name a few.
Considerations in seeking treatment
When seeking treatment, it's often wise to start with your general practitioner, or a relevant specialist who's familiar with you and your medical history.
The choice of which doctor to see will likely be heavily dependent on that history, and the nature and seriousness of the symptoms. Some cases of neuropathy may require nothing more than a period of rest, or change in habits (such as avoiding or shifting pressure on certain areas of the body).
A wide range of doctors
A patient with diabetes, for example, who begins experiencing the early symptoms of neuropathy (such as tingling and numbness in the arms or legs) should immediately contact the doctor who's most familiar with his medical history, or a doctor well-versed in diabetes treatment.
However, the full range of doctors who can be called upon to treat or contribute to the diagnosis and treatment of a hypothetical neuropathy is quite broad. Digestive symptoms may warrant the involvement of a gastroenterologist. Genitourinary symptoms may indicate consultation with a urologist or OB/GYN. Orthopedists, neurologists, immunologists, nutritionists, toxicologists or infectious disease specialists are just some of the medical experts who may be called upon to participate in neuropathy treatment during their careers.
The specific physicians who get involved in any particular case will depend on identification of the symptoms and the process of narrowing down the likely causes and finding avenues for treatment.