Peripheral neuropathy is damage of the peripheral nerves. Your peripheral nerves—the nerves in your toes and fingertips—are the ones on the periphery of your body. When the nerves are damaged, they don’t function properly. People with peripheral neuropathy have decreased or abnormal sensation in their toes and fingers. Sometimes, they develop problems moving these parts of the body as well.
In the United States, the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes will develop neuropathy within their lifetime.
Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Certain medications, including some chemotherapy drugs.
- Heredity. Some people have a family history of peripheral neuropathy.
- Advanced age. Peripheral neuropathy is more common as people age.
- Arthritis. Certain type of arthritis can cause peripheral neuropathy.
- Alcoholism. According to the US National Library of Medicine, up to half of all long-term heavy alcohol users develop peripheral neuropathy.
- Neurological disorders. Certain neurological disorders, including spina bifida and fibromyalgia, are associated with peripheral neuropathy.
- Injury. Acute injury to the peripheral nerves may also cause peripheral neuropathy.
The most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting or stabbing pain in the toes and/or fingertips. Any change in sensation in the fingers or toes may be a symptom of peripheral neuropathy. Be sure to report any abnormal sensations to your doctor. Those sensations may be the first sign of another problem, such as diabetes.
There is no known cure for peripheral neuropathy. The goal of treatments are to slow the progression of the disease, to maintain foot health, and to decrease pain (if present) and improve the quality of life. The foot and ankle physician may prescribe oral medication to help with pain. He or she will also perform a thorough foot check to look for any injuries or infections and will teach you how to do the same. Your foot and ankle physician will also show you how to take care of your feet at home. People who have peripheral neuropathy should have their feet examined by a foot and ankle physician at least once per year.
The best thing you can do to prevent peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes is to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Peripheral neuropathy is common in people with diabetes, but the degree of neuropathy generally corresponds to the degree of blood sugar control. Someone whose blood sugar is kept under tight control will usually have much better sensation in their fingers and toes than someone with poorly controlled diabetes.
If you have peripheral neuropathy, we invite you to call our office to schedule an appointment. You’ll find a tab to request an appointment and the phone number for our clinic conveniently located at the top of this page to get you started.