Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which damage to the nerves in the peripheral nervous system results in sensation loss, pain, or loss of motor function. The peripheral nervous system is composed of the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord that are responsible for motor and sensory function. Causes of peripheral neuropathy can include anything from diseases, such as diabetes, to nutritional deficiency to radiation exposure — many different conditions can cause damage to the nerves, so there are many possible causes of peripheral neuropathy. While there are symptomatic treatments available, truly curing the nerve problems requires an understanding of the underlying cause in individual cases of peripheral neuropathy.
Many different diseases can cause peripheral neuropathy. Several genetic diseases, such as Friedreich's ataxia, cause degeneration of the peripheral nerves. Diabetes is another disease that can lead to peripheral neuropathy. Other disease-related causes of peripheral neuropathy include infections such as AIDS, diphtheria, and amyloidosis. All of these diseases and many others can cause some form of degeneration in or damage to the peripheral nervous system.
Deficiency in various nutrients or other vitamins is another of the many possible causes of peripheral neuropathy. Vitamin B12 deficiency in particular is known to cause nerve degeneration. Many different diseases, conditions, and treatments for some illnesses can cause vitamin B12 deficiency. It can be treated easily through an increase in dietary B12 intake or through the use of vitamin B12 supplements. Unfortunately, vitamin B12 deficiency can be difficult to detect and can cause permanent nerve damage, so maintaining adequate B12 intake is important.
The toxic effects of many different substances are also among the causes of peripheral neuropathy. Excessive consumption of vitamin B6, as through large doses sometimes used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, can cause nerve damage. Toxicity from heavy metals often has similar effects. Drinking alcoholic beverages in excess can also lead to peripheral neuropathy. Many prescription drugs, including powerful antibiotics and drugs used in chemotherapy, can damage the body in many ways and may cause damage to the peripheral nervous system.
Many forms of physical trauma also can cause direct or indirect damage to nerves through direct harm, such as tearing, compression or blood loss. For example, bad cuts or pinching wounds can cause direct damage to the nerves, while strokes can prevent blood from reaching certain nerve cells. Casts, braces, splints, and other equipment may compress nerve cells and cause peripheral neuropathy as well. Prolonged exposure to particularly cold temperatures can also desensitize and damage nerve cells.