Neuritis simply means inflammation of a nerve.  Nerves can be irritated as a result of nerve damage.  Nerve damage often causes weakness, numbness and pain.  Weakness is seen in the muscles innervated by the affected nerve.  Sensory changes are seen in the cutaneous distribution supplied by the nerve.

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which multiple nerves (most commonly) are damaged.  The sheath surrounding the nerve conducting the nerve signal can be injured, or the nerve fibers themselves can be damaged.  Most peripheral neuropathies occur in a length-dependent fashion, meaning the longest nerves are most affected first. Therefore, it is common to experience peripheral neuropathy in the toes.  As the neuropathy progresses, pain climbs up the leg and once it reaches the upper calf, the fingers may start to go numb as well since the nerves to the fingers run about as long as those to the proximal calf.

Causes

It’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause of peripheral neuropathy because a number of factors can cause neuropathies. Indeed, many neuropathies are ‘idiopathic’ meaning no clear cause is identified even after thorough workup.  Some known causes of neuropathy include:

Alcohol: Alcohol can have a toxic effect on nerves.

Autoimmune diseases. These diseases can include thyroid dysfunction, lupus, Guillain Barre Syndrome, among many other conditions.

Diabetes. When damage occurs to several nerves, the cause frequently is diabetes. At least half of all people with diabetes develop some type of neuropathy.

Exposure to poisons. Exposure to poisons may include some toxic substances, such as heavy metals or chemicals.

Medications. Certain medications, especially those used to treat cancer (chemotherapy), may cause peripheral neuropathy.

Infections. Certain viral or bacterial infections can cause peripheral neuropathy, including Lyme disease, shingles (varicella-zoster), Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis C, leprosy, diphtheria and HIV.

Inherited disorders. Disorders such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease are hereditary types of neuropathy.

Vitamin deficiencies. B vitamins, including B-1, B-6 and B-12, are particularly important to nerve health. Vitamin E and niacin also are crucial to nerve health. Not having enough of these vitamins in your system may cause peripheral neuropathy.

Symptoms

Gradual onset of numbness and tingling in your hands

Burning pain

Sharp, jabbing or electric-like pain

Extreme sensitivity to touch, even light touch

Lack of coordination

Muscle weakness or paralysis if motor nerves are affected

Heat intolerance if autonomic nerves are affected

Treatment

Procedural options will be based on the underlying cause of neuropathy.  For instance, if neuropathy is caused by compression of a nerve root in the spine, that area can be targeted with spinal injections.  If neuropathy is due to vitamin deficiences, those vitamins can be taken as supplements or in some cases infused through IV or injection.

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