Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy develops when nerves in the body's extremities – such as the hands, feet and arms – are damaged. The symptoms, see below, depend on which nerves are affected. It's important to see your GP if you experience the early symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy

The main symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include:

  • numbness and tingling in the feet or hands
  • burning, stabbing or shooting pain in affected areas
  • loss of balance and co-ordination
  • muscle weakness, especially in the feet

These symptoms are usually constant, but may come and go.

When to see your GP

It's important to see your GP if you experience the early symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, such as those listed above.

You should also see your GP if you have a cut or ulcer on your foot that isn't getting better.

It's also recommended that people at highest risk of peripheral neuropathy, such as people with diabetes, have regular check-ups.

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and may arrange some tests to help identify the underlying cause. You may be referred to hospital to see a neurologist (a specialist in conditions affecting the nervous system).

Generally, the sooner peripheral neuropathy is diagnosed, the better the chance of limiting the damage and preventing further complications.

Causes of peripheral neuropathy

In Northern Ireland diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) is one of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy.

Over time, the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage the nerves. This type of nerve damage is known as diabetic polyneuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy can also have a wide range of other causes. For example, it can be caused by:

People who are known to be at an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy may have regular check-ups so their nerve function can be assessed.

Treating peripheral neuropathy

Treatment for peripheral neuropathy will depend on the symptoms and underlying cause.

Only some of the underlying causes of neuropathy can be treated. For example, if you have diabetes it may help to gain better control of your blood sugar level, stop smoking and cut down on alcohol.

If you have other symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy, these may need to be treated individually. Your health professional will discuss treatment with you.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published February 2018

This page is due for review August 2019

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