What is Peripheral Nerve Damage?

Debra Durkee

Peripheral nerve damage is an injury or malfunction in any of the body's peripheral nerves, which are the nerves outside the brain and spine. Most commonly damaged are the nerve endings in the hands and feet, and this damage is frequently caused by trauma or disease. Also known as peripheral neuropathy, damage may or may not be permanent.

Nerve ending damage in the feet is often caused by disease.
Nerve ending damage in the feet is often caused by disease.

Peripheral nerve damage can occur in any part of the body where there are nerves that conduct sensations and messages to the brain. Symptoms vary, and depend on what part of the body is damaged. Sometimes parts of the body like fingers and toes can tingle or become numb. In other, more severe cases, the damage can manifest itself in difficulty performing fine motor skills and can impact involuntary functions such as blood pressure, sweating, and digestion.

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

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A number of things can cause damage in one or more nerves. Outside forces such as trauma can easily damage nerves, and constant, repeated movements can impact nerve endings. Those who do repetitive, precise work can be susceptible to nerve damage in their fingers, and should take measures to avoid dangerous strains. Some viral or bacterial infections, such as Lyme disease, can also cause nerve damage. Certain toxins can also present a danger to nerves, including some substances administered on purpose, such as chemotherapy.

Alcohol abuse can increase the chances of developing peripheral nerve damage.
Alcohol abuse can increase the chances of developing peripheral nerve damage.

Inward causes of peripheral nerve damage can include disorders inherited or developed, vitamin or nutrient deficiencies, or tumors that develop in close proximity to nerves. The chance of suffering nerve damage can be increased by alcohol abuse, a lifestyle choice that can also cause liver damage, itself another cause of peripheral nerve damage. As an individual ages, his or her chances of developing one of the types of peripheral nerve damage increase.

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.

Diagnosis of peripheral nerve damage can be difficult because the condition is so varied. A patient's history can help healthcare professionals shed light on what might be wrong, while blood tests can help determine what areas of the body are affected. Other tests, from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to skin biopsies, can also determine the functionality of nerves and health of the systems, tissues, and organs that are connected.

More than 100 different types of peripheral nerve damage have been diagnosed. Severity, treatment, and duration vary with each type. In some cases, a change in lifestyle to relieve the stress on the nerves can help alleviate the symptoms. Therapy is available for other types, which can help an individual overcome loss of sensation or regain lost control of muscles and limbs.

Diabetic patients may have an increased risk for peripheral nerve damage.
Diabetic patients may have an increased risk for peripheral nerve damage.

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