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What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy? A Comprehensive Guide


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Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide, causing pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the hands and feet. But what exactly causes this debilitating condition? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the various factors that can lead to peripheral nerve damage and explore the latest treatment options available at Asuta Health’s neuropathy treatment centers.

Key Takeaways:

  • Diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy
  • Other causes include vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, infections, and toxin exposure
  • Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to prevent permanent nerve damage
  • A multi-faceted approach including medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes can effectively manage symptoms and slow disease progression

Understanding the Peripheral Nervous System

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Before we examine the causes of peripheral neuropathy, it’s important to understand how the peripheral nervous system works. This vast network of nerves extends from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, transmitting signals that allow us to feel, move, and function. When these nerves become damaged or diseased, it can lead to the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.

The peripheral nerves are categorized into three main types:

Nerve Type Function
Sensory nerves Transmit sensations like touch, temperature, and pain
Motor nerves Control muscle movement
Autonomic nerves Regulate involuntary functions like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion

Damage to any of these nerve types can cause peripheral neuropathy. The type and location of nerve damage determines the specific symptoms a person experiences.

Leading Cause: Diabetes

Diabetes is by far the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy, accounting for about 30% of cases. High blood sugar levels over time can damage the tiny blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the nerves. This leads to a type of nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy.

There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy:

  1. Peripheral neuropathy
  2. Autonomic neuropathy
  3. Proximal neuropathy
  4. Focal neuropathy

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy usually starts in the toes and feet, causing symptoms like:

  • Numbness or reduced ability to feel pain/temperature changes
  • Tingling or burning sensation
  • Sharp pains or cramps
  • Increased sensitivity to touch
  • Muscle weakness
  • Serious foot problems like ulcers, infections, deformities

Maintaining tight blood sugar control through diet, exercise, and medication is crucial to prevent or delay diabetic neuropathy. Regular foot exams and proper foot care can also help prevent complications.

At Asuta Health, our team of neuropathy specialists are experts in diagnosing and treating diabetic neuropathy. We offer advanced therapies like electrical nerve stimulation and regenerative medicine to help reduce symptoms and improve nerve function.

Other Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy

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While diabetes is the top cause, there are many other health conditions and factors that can lead to peripheral nerve damage:

Autoimmune Disorders

In some cases, the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the peripheral nerves. Examples include:

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome

Vitamin Deficiencies

Vitamins play an essential role in nerve health. Deficiencies in certain vitamins, especially B vitamins, can cause peripheral neuropathy:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Found in whole grains, meat, fish. Deficiency common in alcoholics.
  • Vitamin B12: Found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy. Deficiency can cause anemia and neuropathy.
  • Vitamin B9 (folate): Found in leafy greens, legumes, fruit. Important for fetal development.
  • Vitamin E: An antioxidant found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils. Rare deficiency.


Certain viral and bacterial infections can directly invade and damage the peripheral nerves:

  • Shingles (reactivation of chickenpox virus)
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV
  • Lyme disease
  • Diphtheria
  • Leprosy


Exposure to toxic substances can cause peripheral nerve damage:

  • Heavy metals like lead and mercury
  • Industrial chemicals like acrylamide
  • Certain medications, including some chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, antivirals

Inherited Disorders

Some people inherit genetic mutations that affect the peripheral nerves, causing neuropathy:

  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • Familial amyloid polyneuropathy
  • Metachromatic leukodystrophy

Other Causes

Peripheral neuropathy can also be caused by:

  • Alcoholism
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Tumors pressing on nerves
  • Physical trauma or injuries
  • Vascular problems reducing blood flow to nerves

Diagnosing the Cause of Peripheral Neuropathy

An artistic illustration depicting the human nervous system, with a central figure showing the spinal cord and branching nerve pathways extending outward like roots or branches, rendered in shades of purple, orange, and teal against a dark background.

With so many potential causes, diagnosing peripheral neuropathy requires a comprehensive evaluation by a skilled neuropathy specialist. At Asuta Health, we start with a thorough medical history and physical exam, checking your muscle strength, reflexes, and ability to feel sensations.

Additional testing may include:

  • Blood tests to check for diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, and other conditions
  • Imaging tests like CT or MRI to look for tumors or other abnormalities
  • Nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG) to measure nerve and muscle function
  • Nerve or skin biopsies to look for signs of nerve damage

An accurate diagnosis is essential to develop a personalized treatment plan targeting the underlying cause of your neuropathy.

Treating Peripheral Neuropathy

An illustration showing a doctor in a white coat consulting with a man and a young girl, likely discussing the causes and treatment of peripheral neuropathy, a condition affecting the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord.

At Asuta Health, we believe in a multi-faceted approach to treating peripheral neuropathy. Depending on the underlying cause, treatment may include:


  • Over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers
  • Antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs that interrupt pain signals
  • Topical medications like capsaicin cream or lidocaine patches


  • Electrical nerve stimulation to reduce pain and improve function
  • Physical therapy to maintain strength, mobility and independence
  • Infusion therapy to deliver nutrients directly to damaged nerves
  • Regenerative medicine like platelet-rich plasma (PRP) to promote nerve healing

Lifestyle Changes

  • Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels
  • Eating a balanced diet rich in B vitamins
  • Exercising regularly to improve muscle strength and reduce pain
  • Avoiding alcohol and quitting smoking
  • Practicing good foot care if you have diabetes

Preventing Peripheral Neuropathy

While not all cases can be prevented, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  • Manage chronic conditions like diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and kidney disease
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein
  • Take a B-complex vitamin supplement if recommended by your doctor
  • Avoid repetitive motions that put pressure on nerves
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Don’t smoke
  • Be cautious with chemicals and toxins

When to Seek Treatment

An illustration depicting potential causes of peripheral neuropathy, with a large red hand representing nerve damage and yellow clouds suggesting various factors like injury, diabetes, or autoimmune disorders that can contribute to this condition.

If you experience symptoms of peripheral neuropathy like numbness, tingling, weakness or pain in your hands or feet, don’t wait to seek treatment. Early intervention is key to preventing permanent nerve damage and disability.

At Asuta Health’s neuropathy treatment centers, our experienced neuropathy doctors use the latest diagnostic tools and treatments to help you find relief and get back to doing the things you love. We offer free consultations to help you explore your treatment options.


Peripheral neuropathy is a complex condition with many potential causes, from diabetes and vitamin deficiencies to autoimmune disorders and toxin exposure. By understanding these risk factors and seeking prompt treatment, you can take control of your nerve health and prevent complications.

At Asuta Health, we’re committed to providing comprehensive, cutting-edge care for peripheral neuropathy. Our personalized treatment plans address the root cause of your condition while relieving symptoms and improving your quality of life. If you’re ready to find lasting relief, schedule your free consultation today.

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