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Neuropathy:  Introduction / General Information

Neuropathy is a disease in which the peripheral nerves (the nerves in the body other than the spinal cord and brain) of the body are injured and not working properly. There are many different types of neuropathies and just as many different ways to categorize them, including by the type of nerve damaged, the cause(s) of the nerve damage, and the pattern of nerve damage.  There are multiple diseases that could cause nerve injury and neuropathy.  The peripheral nerves are a group of cells that transmit information from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles and the organs of the body. They also carry information back from the skin and the organs to the brain. These are the nerves that are injured.

For example when the brain wants to tell the muscle to move it sends a command to the muscle through the peripheral nerve. The nerves that are responsible for moving the muscles are called motor nerves. If they are injured, the patients develop muscle weakness.  There is a second type of nerve that is called a sensory nerve.  They are responsible for transmitting sensation of touch, vibration, and position to the brain.  When these nerves are injured the patients develop numbness, tingling, pain, and burning. When the nerves are damage the brain loses its connection with the muscles, skin, and the other organs of the body which could develop into a neuropathy. 

All the symptoms that develop are as a result of the disruption of the link between the brain and the organs of the body. There is a wide range of symptoms and disease intensity; some patients only have mild symptoms and a slowly progressing disease, others could have a very aggressive course.

Approximately 21 million Americans are affected by peripheral neuropthy.  Diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy.  30% of Neuropathies are idiopathic, meaning, without a known cause.  Peripheral is a term used for the most distal nerves (farthest away from the spinal cord and brain) in our body, including those in our feet or hands.

Patients could develop severe weakness with intense burning, tingling and numbness. However there have been great advances and breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of neuropathies. Today we have treatments that were not available a short time ago, even for the most aggressive types of neuropathy. Patients with severe burning or weakness can now be helped.