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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Peripheral Neuropathy - Topic Overview

How is peripheral neuropathy diagnosed?

It can be hard to diagnose peripheral neuropathy, because symptoms can vary. People who have diabetes need to get a complete foot exam every year. During the foot exam, the doctor will check for signs of this peripheral neuropathy.

Your doctor will start by asking questions about:

  • Your symptoms.
  • Your medical history, including use of alcohol, risk of HIV infection, or exposure to toxic substances.
  • Your family's medical history, including nerve disease.

Your doctor may also test your muscle strength and ability to feel touch, temperature, and pain. These tests include electromyography and nerve conduction tests.

You may also have blood tests to find out if you have diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease, or kidney problems that might cause neuropathy.

How is it treated?

The focus of treatment for peripheral neuropathy is to relieve symptoms by treating the health problem that's causing it. For example, vitamin deficiency caused by overuse of alcohol can be treated by eating a healthy diet, taking vitamin supplements, and stopping alcohol use. If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar can slow neuropathy and may improve it.

You may have physical therapy to increase muscle strength and help build muscle control. Over-the-counter medicine can relieve mild nerve pain. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine to help with severe pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Adopting healthy habits can reduce the effects of peripheral neuropathy. Be sure to eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, avoid alcohol, and quit smoking.

It's also a good idea to take care to avoid injury.

  • When your feet or legs feel numb, it's easier to lose your balance and fall. At home:
    • Remove throw rugs and clutter.
    • Install sturdy handrails on stairways.
    • Put grab bars near your shower, bathtub, and toilet.
  • To protect your hands:
    • Use pot holders, and avoid hot water when you are cooking.
    • Always check your bath or shower using a part of your body that can feel temperature normally, such as your elbow.
  • Check your feet every day (or have someone else check for you) using this checklist:
    • Look at all areas of your feet, including your toes.
    • Use a handheld mirror or a magnifying mirror attached to the bathroom wall near the baseboard to inspect your feet.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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