Neuropathy is caused by injured nerve cells producing and sending abnormal pain signals to the brain. Certain medical conditions or injuries may damage or disrupt nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system. These damaged or disrupted nerve cells may send painful messages to the brain, even though there is no external factor to cause pain. Neurons can become super-sensitive and can initiate a cycle of events that cause the pain to escalate and cover larger and larger areas. In many cases, there is permanent nerve damage, leaving limbs weak and without feeling and prone to injury. Neruropathy may also cause unsteadiness with walking, increased risk of falling, and loss of bladder/bowel control.
Neuropathy can be caused by a variety of disease states such as diabetes, alcoholism, medication effects, inflammatory disorders, vitamin deficiencies, infections, physical injury and malignancy.
Symptoms vary from person to person and are dependent upon the nerves involved. Symptoms are variable and can include pain that is mild to excruciating in intensity, lack of feeling, itching, tingling, numbness, burning and increased sensitivity to temperature or touch.
A complete medical history and neurological examination is necessary to assess possible causes of the neuropathy. Electromyography and nerve conduction tests can quantify and categorize the extent and type of nerve damage.
Treatment depends on the underlying origin of the neuropathy. Effective treatment exists for painful neuropathy.