What is Idiopathic Neuropathy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2018
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Idiopathic neuropathy is a neurological disorder in the peripheral nervous system of unknown cause. Neuropathy simply means “damage to the nerves” and in around a third of cases of peripheral neuropathy, the cause cannot be identified. Not knowing the cause can complicate treatment by making the condition much harder to address. Patients diagnosed with idiopathic neuropathy may want to consider evaluation by another neurologist, as sometimes a cause is missed or not considered because a doctor does not know about it or it is extremely rare.

In people with idiopathic neuropathy, the early symptoms start with tingling and numbness in the extremities. Some people experience pain, while others may have symptoms like muscle weakness, unsteady gait, and poor motor control. Losing functionality in the extremities can result in problems with fine motor tasks, especially with the hands, as the fingers are highly sensitive and need intact nerve endings to work properly.

A neurologist usually sees a patient with symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and conducts an evaluation to confirm the diagnosis and explore possible causes. Some potential reasons to develop neuropathy include diseases like diabetes, damage to the spinal cord, and genetic conditions. If no cause can be identified, the patient will be diagnosed with idiopathic neuropathy, which simply means that while the condition is documented and the patient demonstrably has it, the doctor cannot determine why.


Not knowing the cause of idiopathic neuropathy does not mean it is not treatable. Some medications may help patients with this condition, such as analgesic drugs for pain management. Nerve stimulation can be helpful in some cases and surgery may be considered if a patient experiences chronic and severe problems. A problem nerve can be severed in a neurotomy procedure so that it will stop sending confused signals to the brain, resolving issues like pain and other abnormal sensations.

Patients with idiopathic neuropathy may be periodically reevaluated to see if the condition is progressing and to look for clues into possible causes. It is possible for a patient to live with idiopathic neuropathy for an extended period of time before a doctor identifies a cause and changes the diagnosis. Many patients retain high levels of functionality with this condition and may be able to continue working, playing sports, and engaging in other activities with some adaptation and assistance. For example, people who have trouble writing and typing may use dictation equipment at work, and athletes may use special gloves for enhanced grip to compensate for hand weakness.



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