Peripheral neuropathy (PN) is damage to or disease affecting nerves, which may impair sensation, movement, gland or organ function, or other aspects of health, depending on the type of nerve affected. Common causes include systemic diseases (such as diabetes or leprosy), vitamin deficiency, medication (e.g., chemotherapy, or commonly prescribed antibiotics including Metronidazole and the Fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics (Ciprofloxacin, Levaquin, Avelox etc.)), traumatic injury, radiation therapy, excessive alcohol consumption, immune system disease, Coeliac disease, or viral infection. It can also be genetic (present from birth) or idiopathic (no known cause). In conventional medical usage, the word neuropathy (neuro-, “nervous system” and -pathy, “disease of”) without modifier usually means peripheral neuropathy.
Neuropathy affecting just one nerve is called “mononeuropathy” and neuropathy involving multiple nerves in roughly the same areas on both sides of the body is called “symmetrical polyneuropathy” or simply “polyneuropathy“. When two or more (typically just a few, but sometimes many) separate nerves in disparate areas of the body are affected it is called “mononeuritis multiplex“, “multifocal mononeuropathy”, or “multiple mononeuropathy”.
Peripheral neuropathy may be chronic (a long-term condition where symptoms begin subtly and progress slowly) or acute (sudden onset, rapid progress, and slow resolution). Acute neuropathies demand urgent diagnosis. Motor nerves (that control muscles), sensory nerves, or autonomic nerves (that control automatic functions such as heart rate, body temperature, and breathing) may be affected. More than one type of nerve may be affected at the same time. Peripheral neuropathies may be classified according to the type of nerve predominantly involved, or by the underlying cause.
Neuropathy may cause painful cramps, fasciculations (fine muscle twitching), muscle loss, bone degeneration, and changes in the skin, hair, and nails. Additionally, motor neuropathy may cause impaired balance and coordination or, most commonly, muscle weakness; sensory neuropathy may cause numbness to touch and vibration, reduced position sense causing poorer coordination and balance, reduced sensitivity to temperature change and pain, spontaneous tingling or burning pain, or skin allodynia (severe pain from normally nonpainful stimuli, such as light touch); and autonomic neuropathy may produce diverse symptoms, depending on the affected glands and organs, but common symptoms are poor bladder control, abnormal blood pressure or heart rate, and reduced ability to sweat normally.