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About Neuropathy

Neuropathy is the term for a range of disorders that affect the body's nerves, the electrical cables that transmit information between the brain, the spinal cord, and the rest of the body. There are more than 200 different causes of neuropathy, including:

  • Nerve compression
  • Certain hereditary conditions
  • Rheumatologic and immune diseases
  • Trauma
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • AIDS and other infections
  • Kidney disease
  • Medications, toxins, and vitamin deficiencies
  • Bone marrow disorders
  • Critical illnesses

Symptoms of Neuropathy

Neuropathy most often develops in the limbs and is also called peripheral neuropathy. Doctors have identified more than 200 causes of peripheral neuropathy, each with a particular set of symptoms. Numbness, tingling, burning and prickling sensations are among the most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. The skin over an affected area may change; it is often colder, and has a different color, less hair, and is thinner than normal skin. Severe symptoms can include muscle weakness and wasting, limb paralysis, and organ or gland dysfunction.

Unlike peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that supply the internal structures regulating body functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, and bowel, bladder, and sexual function. Symptoms include urinary or sexual problems, dizziness, fainting spells, dry eyes and mouth, sweating dysfunction, and digestive disorders.

Diagnosis of Neuropathy

Neurologists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital offer comprehensive, expert diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care for patients for neuropathies. We diagnose neuropathies using sophisticated electrodiagnostic tests that directly study nerve and muscle function. These include:

  • Nerve conduction studies to measure how well signals travel through nerves.
  • Electromyography to measure electrical activity in muscle tissue.
  • Skin punch biopsy to gauge the number of pain- and temperature-sensitive nerves.

Treatment for Neuropathy

To treat neuropathy doctors here first address any underlying conditions that may be causing the problem. If neuropathy symptoms persist they will devise a highly individualized treatment program that might include different medications, physical or occupational therapy, splinting, or surgery.

Medical Treatment for Neuropathy

Medical treatment for neuropathy focuses on pain relief and muscle weakness. Doctors may prescribe drugs, including some not usually considered pain relievers that have proven effective in lessening pain related to nerve damage. These include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and drugs to treat abnormal heart rhythms. Topical pain relievers may also help.

Surgical Treatment for Neuropathy

If neuropathy is caused by pressure on a nerve, surgeons can sometimes alleviate the pressure through surgery.

Rehabilitation for Neuropathy

People with neuropathy may develop muscle stiffness and contracture, a shortening of specific muscles. Physical and occupational therapy can help patients regain or maintain their ability to perform daily activities. Rehabilitation experts at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital work with patients to:

  • An individualized program to maintain or improve function.
  • Recommend devices including neck supports, canes, and walkers, and equipment for the home to ensure patient safety and mobility.
  • Discuss ways to modify activities, conserve energy, and simplify work.

Research for Neuropathy

Researchers at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell's Neuromuscular Service are studying:

  • Gene therapy to promote nerve growth in diabetic and AIDS related neuropathy.
  • New pain control agents in diabetic neuropathy.

Researchers at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia's Neuromuscular Service are studying:

  • Treatments to prevent neuropathy (neuroprotection) in patients receiving cancer chemotherapy.
  • Gene therapy to promote nerve regeneration in diabetic neuropathy.
  • New treatments to allow nerve regeneration in diabetic neuropathy.
  • New treatments to treat diabetic neuropathy pain.
  • Neuropathies caused by celiac disease.
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