What is Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy?

Elan Kesilman-Potter

Idiopathic peripheral neuropathy refers to a condition where there is damage to the peripheral nervous system because of an undetermined cause. Peripheral neuropathy is commonly caused by diabetes, traumatic injuries or metabolic problems, but any peripheral nerve disorders that cannot be definitively linked to a cause are called idiopathic. The causes of idiopathic peripheral neuropathy are unknown, so doctors can treat only the symptoms of nerve damage, such as numbness, pain or extreme sensitivity.

Patients suffering from idiopathic peripheral neuropathy may notice symptoms in the feet.
Patients suffering from idiopathic peripheral neuropathy may notice symptoms in the feet.

Peripheral neuropathy indicates damage to the peripheral nervous system (PNS), the network of nerves leading off the brain and the spinal cord to the rest of the body. There are more than 50 different potential causes of peripheral neuropathy, and approximately a third of PNS damage is idiopathic, or without a known primary cause. Idiopathic peripheral neuropathy is most prevalent in middle-aged and elderly people.

A CT scan can help determine the extent of peripheral nerve damage.
A CT scan can help determine the extent of peripheral nerve damage.

Symptoms of idiopathic peripheral neuropathy can include numbness, pain or heightened sensitivity in the peripheral nerves. Most patients will first notice symptoms in the hands or feet, but idiopathic nerve damage might occur in other parts of the body. Muscle weakness is another common symptom of the condition.

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Idiopathic peripheral neuropathy is most prevalent in elderly people, who may notice symptoms in their hands.
Idiopathic peripheral neuropathy is most prevalent in elderly people, who may notice symptoms in their hands.

In order to arrive at a diagnosis of idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, doctors usually conduct a series of tests to rule out potential sources of the nerve damage. A physical neurological examination examines nerve sensitivity and muscle reflex actions. Some neurologists employ an electromyography test to gauge electrical activity in nerves and muscles. Blood tests are also important to eliminate vitamin deficiencies or toxins as causes of peripheral neuropathy. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans can also be useful to evaluate the extent of peripheral nerve damage and rule out primary causes.

Methylcobalamin tablets, which are used to treat peripheral neuropathy.
Methylcobalamin tablets, which are used to treat peripheral neuropathy.

The treatment of idiopathic peripheral neuropathy depends on the manifested symptoms. Doctors might prescribe pain medications that target nerve cells when there is pain or heightened nerve sensitivity. When medications cannot manage pain, an injection of lidocaine to block a particular nerve might be used. Physical and occupational therapy can also be effective for patients who suffer from muscle weakness.

Since nerve cells have the capacity to heal and grow, the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can improve over time.
Since nerve cells have the capacity to heal and grow, the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can improve over time.

Idiopathic peripheral neuropathy might improve or worsen depending on its severity. Nerve cells cannot reproduce, but existing nerves have the capability to heal and grow if they are not damaged extensively. The recovery process is slow, however, and might take years because nerves grow at an extremely slow rate. In many cases, recovery does not happen at all.

Some cases of peripheral nerve damage may manifest itself in difficulty performing fine motor skills.
Some cases of peripheral nerve damage may manifest itself in difficulty performing fine motor skills.
Occupational therapy may help improve a child's cognitive, physical, sensory, and motor skills.
Occupational therapy may help improve a child's cognitive, physical, sensory, and motor skills.

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