ABOUT peripheral NEUROPATHY:  Symptoms and Signs

While every person’s experience with peripheral neuropathy can be as unique as the individual, there are some common neuropathy symptoms and signs.

At first, you may notice numbness, tingling, abnormal sensations, or pain in your feet.  Some people feel like they have socks on, even though they are barefoot.  Over time, this feeling spreads to your legs and hands.

You may find it harder and harder to walk. Your legs feel heavy. You have to drag yourself up the stairs. You find yourself losing your balance, not being exactly sure where your feet are; so, you stumble into things or fall. To keep your balance, you are likely to widen your way of walking, and your walking becomes less rhythmic or fluid.

As for your hands, you think you have a good grip on something, like your keys, but they drop right out of your hands.  In the worst cases, you can end up in a wheelchair.  Some neuropathies can be fatal.

Peripheral neuropathy symptoms and signs  can vary in how they begin.  Some neuropathies come on suddenly; others gradually over many years. There are three types of peripheral nerves affected, and symptoms depend on these nerves and their location:

  1. Sensory Nerves:  affect sensation
  2. Autonomic Nerves: affect internal organ functions; and,
  3. Motor Nerves:  affect muscles.

Many types of peripheral neuropathy affect all three types of nerves to various degrees, but some affect only one or two.

Here are some peripheral neuropathy symptoms and warning signs as described by patients:

Weakness in the Arms or Legs

Legs: Usually caused by damage to the motor nerves, leg symptoms often include difficulty walking or running; a feeling of "heaviness" in your legs; finding it takes a lot of effort just to climb the stairs; stumbling or tiring easily.  Muscle cramps may be common.

Arms: In the arms, you may find it difficult to carry groceries, open jars, turn door knobs or take care of your personal grooming.  A common frustration is dropping things.

Numbness, Tingling and Pain

Sensory nerves, when damaged, can cause various symptoms. Early on, there may be spontaneous sensations, called paresthesias, which include numbness, tingling, pinching, sharp, deep stabs, electric shocks, or buzzing. These sensations are usually worse at night, and sometimes become painful and severe.

You may also experience unpleasant abnormal sensations when you touch something, sensations called dysesthesias because they are caused by stimuli.

Or, you may find yourself feeling nothing at all, in this case experiencing anesthesia, a lessening or absence of sensation.

Impaired Sense of Position

When you lose the ability to “sense” or feel your feet, you may find yourself being uncoordinated because when you walk because you are not sure about the placement of your feet.   Patients may find themselves walking differently without really knowing how or why they are doing so. Chances are they have either widened their style of walking (in an unconscious effort to keep their balance) or they may be dragging their feet.

“Glove and Stocking Sensation”

This phrase describes what doctors call a patient’s odd feeling of wearing stockings or gloves or slippers when, in fact, the patient’s hands and feet are completely bare.

Symptoms of Autonomic Damage

When it occurs, autonomic nerve damage can potentially cause: a drop in blood pressure and, consequently, dizziness when standing up; intestinal difficulties such as constipation or diarrhea; sexual dysfunction; thinning of the skin (with susceptibility to bruising and poor healing), and other symptoms.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these neuropathy symptoms, we encourage you to visit your physician as soon as possible and discuss your symptoms and your concerns.

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