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Neuropathies: causes, risk factors and diagnostic methods

Symptoms such as muscle weakness, numbness, and pain in the hands and feet may be erroneously associated with muscular dystrophy or various metabolic disorders, when in fact it could be a neuropathy.

Neuropathies include a series of disorders that occur when the nerves of the peripheral nervous system are damaged. Peripheral nerves are found throughout the body, from the brain to the legs. They receive information from the organs and structures of the body, and then, also through their interfaces, the orders from the brain and the spinal cord are sent back to those structures.

Causes of neuropathies

For approximately 30% of cases of neuropathies the causes are not known (idiopathic neuropathy), and for other 30% the diabetes is incriminated. Statistics show that nearly 50% of people with diabetes develop at some point a certain type of neuropathy.
Other cases of neuropathy (called acquired neuropathies) have causes such as: traumas or nervous pressure, nutritional problems or vitamin deficiency such as vitamin E and complex B (B1, B6, B12), exposure to toxic substances such as heavy metals, cancer treatment drugs, benign and malignant tumors that press on nerves, inherited disorders and certain autoimmune diseases. Alcoholism, associated with inappropriate nutrition and vitamin deficiency, can also lead to neuropathy.

Types of neuropathies

Several types of neuropathies are distinguished and one classification is made depending on the number of the affected nerves, such as: mononeuropathy, when a single nerve is affected, multiple mononeuropathy or mononeuropathy multiplex, when two or more nerves are affected, and polyneuropathy, which is a generalised disorder of the peripheral nerves.

Affections that may become risk factors for the occurrence of neuropathies

Patients who suffer from diabetes and those who do not control their blood sugar levels are at a higher risk of developing a certain form of neuropathy. Other risk factors include rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
The major risk of developing neuropathy is taken by patients infected with HIV or Hepatitis C, but also by those undergoing organ transplants. People with a very weak immune system also come into this category. Neuropathy can also occur in people with kidney, liver or thyroid disorders.

Diagnostic methods

Common diagnosis investigations include blood tests, vitamin B12, urine tests, thyroid function testing and electromyography (EMG) which specify the type of affected fibers – sensory, motor or autonomous. The nerve conduction test is another investigation used to diagnose neuropathic disorders (diabetic and peripheral).

 

Last Updated on March 23, 2020

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