What Is Neuropathy?


Neuropathy, also known as peripheral neuropathy, has been called by some experts “the most common disease that no one has ever heard of.” It’s estimated that in America alone upwards of 20 million people suffer from the illness, with varying degrees of affliction, pain and suffering accompanying the malady. Neuropathy is certainly one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. But what exactly IS neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder of the peripheral nerves, the autonomic, sensory and motor nerves that connect the spinal cord to muscles, skin and the internal organs. It normally affects the feet and hands of the afflicted person, with varying results such as weakness, tingling, pain and/or numbness in these extremities.

Neuropathy is “nerve damage” that can be compared to the body’s own electrical wiring system breaking down, it disrupts the body’s ability to communicate with the skin, joints, muscles or internal organs. The disease causes varying degrees of debilitation in those who are suffering from it, numbness, pain, weakness or poor coordination that can be depressing and discouraging as well as uncomfortable or very painful in the afflicted members of the body. One of the often-used metaphors for those who are experiencing the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy is that they feel like they are wearing socks when they are in fact bare-footed, or are wearing gloves when they are in fact gloveless.

Interestingly, it is assumed at this point in medical history that peripheral neuropathy has always been around but was either ignored, misdiagnosed, or attributed to another disease as a side effect, such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney failure. A 1999 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 due to this disease!

There are multiple causes for neuropathy and usually these causes are named in that particular form of neuropathy. Below are some of the most prominent forms:

Compressive neuropathy, also known as entrapment neuropathy – usually caused by some accident or trauma that affects the nerves and compresses them, in the process damaging the nerves so that they do not function correctly.

  • Diabetic neuropathy: the most common cause of neuropathy in the western world, and associated with the onset of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
  • Toxic neuropathy, and drug-induced neuropathy: these neuropathies are caused by chemicals either accidentally affecting humans due to some toxic exposure event or my medications that have the side-effect of neuropathy upon the consumer of the medication.
  • Immune-Mediated and CIDP: certain auto-immune disorders may manifest as neuropathy. CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy) is an inflammatory auto-immune response that affects the peripheral nerves.#

Help is available for neuropathy and sufferers are encouraged to talk to their doctors as the first step in treatment. Education is also advocated for the disease.