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What Is Bilateral Neuropathy?

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  • Written By: Koren Allen
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 July 2014
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Bilateral neuropathy describes a number of nerve disorders that generally affect the hands and feet, but can include other systems in the body as well. The term bilateral means affecting both the left and right side of the body. Neuropathy is a blanket term for any disease or disorder of the nervous system. In medical literature, bilateral neuropathy generally refers to a collection of symptoms affecting both left and right arms and hands, or both left and right legs and feet. It is also commonly called peripheral neuropathy to distinguish it from other types of neuropathy that affect the central nervous system.

The symptoms of bilateral neuropathy vary according to the type of nerve affected and the severity of the disease. When the motor nerves are affected, muscle weakness may occur, as well as problems with coordination. If the sensory nerves are affected, there will be loss of feeling, numbness and tingling. Pain is also a symptom with both types of nerves. Bilateral neuropathy in the legs can lead to an increased risk of falling because of muscle weakness or lack of coordination due to numbness.

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The most common single cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes, accounting for about 30% of diagnosed cases in the United States. Other causes can include vitamin deficiencies, exposure to toxins, and systemic infection such as HIV. Excessive alcohol or drug use has also been found to cause neuropathy in some patients. Neuropathy can be a result from a direct injury, and it can also be caused by hereditary conditions such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. In about 30% of diagnosed neuropathy, the cause is unknown.

Early diagnosis of bilateral neuropathy is important to slow the progression of nerve damage, and in some cases, reverse the existing damage before it becomes permanent. Diagnosis is often made by a neurologist after studying the patient's medical history, including any underlying conditions that may contribute to neuropathy. A physical exam in the office may reveal abnormalities in reflex reactions, muscle reactions and grip strength. More detailed testing is sometimes required and may include an electromyogram (EMG) which studies muscle contractions, as well as nerve conduction tests.

Treatment for bilateral neuropathy will start with diagnosing and treating any underlying or contributing cause, such as diabetes. Physical therapy and occupational therapy may be necessary to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Orthopedic devices such as splints may be worn to ease pain by stabilizing the injured area during healing. Medication is also commonly used to treat neuropathy; pain medication and anticonvulsant medications may be used to ease the symptoms of bilateral neuropathy.

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Discuss this Article

Mykol
Post 4

I had peripheral neuropathy symptoms in my arms and hands after using crutches for a long period of time.

After I broke my leg I had to use crutches for about 8 weeks, and that was a long 8 weeks. I got tired of sitting around, so tried to keep as active as possible.

My doctor said the pain and numbness I was feeling would eventually go away once I quit using the crutches. He was right, and I haven't had any problems since then. I really feel for those people who struggle with these symptoms all of the time.

SarahSon
Post 3

Ever since I was in a car accident, I have had nerve pain all over my body. I have gone through a lot of physical therapy to help with the neuropathy.

If I am having a flare up it usually starts in both of my hands and moves up my arms. It really is a strange sensation. It is just something I have had to learn to live and cope with ever since my accident.

honeybees
Post 2

I have rheumatoid arthritis which is considered an autoimmune disease. Because of this I have bilateral peripheral neuropathy symptoms in my feet.

It always affects both sides at the same time, and many times feels like someone is sticking pins in the bottom of my feet. It really is a strange feeling, and sometimes lasts a lot longer than others.

If it is just for a few seconds, it isn't so bad, but if the feeling continues it can really affect your activities. The medication I take for my arthritis is supposed to help with the neuropathy. When I have a bad flare up though, it doesn't seem to do much good.

golf07
Post 1

My mom has diabetic peripheral neuropathy which affects how stable she feels on her feet. She takes medication for both the diabetes and the neuropathy, but some days are worse than others.

When she feels numbness in her feet, she doesn't feel comfortable doing much walking or standing. I'm not sure if she has any nerve damage or not, but I know that keeping her diabetes under control plays a big part in treating her diabetic neuropathy.

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