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Understanding Peripheral Neuropathy -- the Basics

What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?

There are many factors that can cause peripheral neuropathies, so it is often difficult to pinpoint the origin. Neuropathies occur by one of three methods:

  • Acquired neuropathies are caused by environmental factors such as toxins, trauma, illness, or infection. Known causes of acquired neuropathies include:
  • Diabetes
  • Several rare inherited diseases
  • Alcoholism
  • Poor nutrition or vitamin deficiency
  • Certain kinds of cancer and chemotherapy used to treat them
  • Conditions where nerves are mistakenly attacked by the body’s own immune system or damaged by an overaggressive response to injury
  • Certain medications
  • Kidney or thyroid disease
  • Infections such as Lyme disease, shingles, or AIDS
  • Hereditary neuropathies are not as common. Hereditary neuropathies are diseases of the peripheral nerves that are genetically passed from parent to child. The most common of these is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1. It is characterized by weakness in the legs and, to a lesser degree, the arms -- symptoms that usually appear between mid-childhood and age 30. This disease is caused by degeneration of the insulation that normally surrounds the nerves and helps them conduct the electrical impulses needed for them to trigger muscle movement.
  • Idiopathic neuropathies are from an unknown cause. As many as one-third of all neuropathies are classified in this way.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Richard Senelick, MD on March 21, 2014
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