ABOUT PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY: FACTS
Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder of the peripheral nerves—the motor, sensory and autonomic nerves that connect the spinal cord to muscles, skin and internal organs. It usually affects the hands and feet, causing weakness, numbness, tingling and pain. Peripheral neuropathy’s course is variable; it can come and go, slowly progressing over many years, or it can become severe and debilitating. However, if diagnosed early, peripheral neuropathy can often be controlled.
Why Have We Heard So Little About Peripheral Neuropathy? Is It A New Disease?
Peripheral neuropathy is common. It is estimated that upwards of 20 million Americans suffer from this illness. It can occur at any age, but is more common among older adults. A l999 survey found that 8-9% of Medicare recipients have peripheral neuropathy as their primary or secondary diagnosis. The annual cost to Medicare exceeds $3.5 billion.
Peripheral neuropathy has always been present, but has not received much attention. Its extent and importance have not yet been adequately recognized. It is apt to be misdiagnosed, or thought to be merely a side effect of another disease like diabetes or cancer or kidney failure. The development of new therapies has unfortunately been slow and under funded.
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?
There are many causes of neuropathy. Approximately 30% of neuropathies are “idiopathic,” or of an unknown cause. In another 30% of cases, the cause is diabetes. Other neuropathy causes include autoimmune disorders, tumors, heredity, nutritional imbalances, infections or toxins.