Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to the peripheral nervous system, which
transmits information from the brain and spinal cord to every other part of the body.
More than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy have been identified, each with its own
characteristic set of symptoms, pattern of development, and prognosis. Impaired
function and symptoms depend on the type of nerves — motor, sensory, or autonomic
— that are damaged. Some people may experience temporary numbness, tingling, and
pricking sensations, sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness. Others may suffer more
extreme symptoms, including burning pain (especially at night), muscle wasting,
paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction. Peripheral neuropathy may be either inherited or
acquired. Causes of acquired peripheral neuropathy include physical injury (trauma) to a
nerve, tumors, toxins, autoimmune responses, nutritional deficiencies, alcoholism, and
vascular and metabolic disorders. Acquired peripheral neuropathies are caused by
systemic disease, trauma from external agents, or infections or autoimmune disorders
affecting nerve tissue. Inherited forms of peripheral neuropathy are caused by inborn
mistakes in the genetic code or by new genetic mutations.
Is there any treatment?
No medical treatments exist that can cure inherited peripheral neuropathy. However,
there are therapies for many other forms. In general, adopting healthy habits — such as
maintaining optimal weight, avoiding exposure to toxins, following a physician-
supervised exercise program, eating a balanced diet, correcting vitamin deficiencies, and
limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption — can reduce the physical and emotional
effects of peripheral neuropathy. Systemic diseases frequently require more complex
What is the prognosis?
In acute neuropathies, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, symptoms appear suddenly,
progress rapidly, and resolve slowly as damaged nerves heal. In chronic forms,
symptoms begin subtly and progress slowly. Some people may have periods of relief
followed by relapse. Others may reach a plateau stage where symptoms stay the same
for many months or years. Some chronic neuropathies worsen over time, but very few
forms prove fatal unless complicated by other diseases. Occasionally the neuropathy is a
symptom of another disorder.
What research is being done?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes
of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct research related to peripheral
neuropathies in laboratories at the NIH and also support additional research through
grants to major medical institutions across the country. Current research projects
funded by the NINDS involve investigations of genetic factors associated with hereditary
neuropathies, studies of biological mechanisms involved in diabetes-associated
neuropathies, and investigations exploring how the immune system contributes to
peripheral nerve damage. Neuropathic pain is a primary target of NINDS-sponsored
studies aimed at developing more effective therapies for symptoms of peripheral
neuropathy. Some scientists hope to identify substances that will block the brain
chemicals that generate pain signals, while others are investigating the pathways by
which pain signals reach the brain.
Select this link to view a list of studies currently seeking patients.
American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
P.O. Box 850
Rocklin, CA 95677-0850
Tel: 916-632-0922 800-533-3231
60 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10165-0999
Related NINDS Publications and Information
Chronic Pain: Hope Through Research
Chronic pain information page compiled by the National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892
The information provided here is in the public domain. My personal thanks to NINDS
and the NIH for allowing me to use it.