Neuropathy is a general term that refers to disease processes or injuries which cause nerve malfunctiion. The term is typically further identified by the location or types of nerves affected. The disruptions may occur in any region of the body.
The term describes nerve damage of the involuntary nervous system, which is responsible for regulating the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and reproductive systems. Symptoms of this type of disorder depend on the organ system involved. The wide range of symptoms include:
• Blurred vision
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Bloating, nausea, vomiting and abdominal discomfort
• Constipation or diarrhea
• Urinary incontinence, inability to urinate or the sensation of bladder fullness
• Intolerance to heat
• Inability to sweating
• Masked hypoglycemia
The malfunction develops in any of the 12 cranial nerves extending outward from the brain. When the nerves governing hearing or sight suffer damage, the conditions are known as auditory or optic neuropathy. When the damage occurs in the nerves that regulate motor function, symptoms may include general muscle weakness, loss of muscle mass, muscle cramping, loss of coordination, dexterity and reflexes.
The general term refers to neuropathy involving a single nerve, a group of nerves or one specific body region.
This type of problem involves the nerves of the peripheral nervous system, which is located outside of the brain and spinal column. Commonly the nerve tissue malfunctions develop in the arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet or toes. When nerves in the shoulders, hips, buttocks or thighs are involved, the condition is known as proximal neuropathy.
Symptoms of the sensory nerves in these areas often include numbness, tingling and pain, which progress along the extremity toward the center of the body. The regions might also become sensitive to touch. When the condition occurs in the arms or legs and becomes severe, individuals may appear clumsy or unstable due to the lack of coordination in the muscles, connective tissues and joints. Some instances may cause a total lack of sensation. This type of neuropathy may occur in the legs or feet of diabetic patients and can lead to serious infections when blisters or wounds go unnoticed. If not diagnosed and treated promptly, the infection spreads to deeper areas.
Testing and Diagnosis
When patients experience symptoms occurring for an unknown cause, they typically seek medical help. After compiling a complete medical history and performing a physical examination, physicians may order blood tests to determine if the malfunction developed secondary to a disease process. Imaging studies may reveal nerve blockages caused by swelling, tumors or other abnormalities. Nerve function tests, which include electromyography, nerve conduction velocity tests or nerve biopsies are used to assess the extent and severity of nerve damage.