Polyneuropathy, the most common form of a group of disorders known as peripheral neuropathy, is caused by damage to peripheral nerves (defined as all nerves beyond the brain and spinal cord). Peripheral nerves travel from the spinal cord to muscles, skin, internal organs, and glands. In polyneuropathy, many nerves throughout the body malfunction at the same time.
Although there are different causes of polyneuropathy, the symptoms remain relatively constant and can include:
Some neuropathies may involve muscles used in swallowing, breathing or eye movement.
The neuromuscular team at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health offers a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of peripheral nerve disorders. Expert neurologists, neurosurgeons, physical medicine specialists, speech therapists, physical and occupational therapists, neuropsychologists, respiratory therapists, nutritionists and others are available to every patient to ensure the best possible outcome. For more information about polyneuropathy, or to schedule an appointment at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health's Center for Neurosciences & Spine, call 206-341-0420.
Neuropathies of all types generally fall into three categories: acquired, hereditary and idiopathic (no known cause).
One of the most common forms of an acquired neuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, which is the result of poorly controlled blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Though less common, diabetes can also cause mononeuropathy, often characterized by weakness of the eye or of the thigh muscles.
Other causes of acquired neuropathies include exposure to certain toxins, poor nutrition (particularly vitamin B deficiency), infections, traumatic injuries, autoimmune disorders and complications from diseases such as cancer or kidney failure.
Hereditary neuropathies are not as common. In cases of hereditary disease a specific gene may be passed on from parent to child. The most common of these is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which can take different forms and is characterized by a slowly progressive degeneration of the muscles in the foot, lower leg, hand and forearm, and a mild loss of sensation in the limbs, fingers and toes.
Idiopathic, which means "of unknown cause," is the classification for up to one-third of diagnosed neuropathies. Typically, idiopathic neuropathies occur in people over 60 years old and progress slowly, or remain unchanged after initial onset.
A serious but rare form of acquired polyneuropathy is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a disease that strikes suddenly when the body's immune system attacks peripheral nerves. Early symptoms include weakness, tingling, and loss of sensation in the legs that eventually spreads to the arms. In critical cases problems with blood pressure, breathing and heart rhythm may occur. However, despite the severity of the disease, recovery rates are good when patients receive treatment early.
Virginia Mason Franciscan Health's Center for Neurosciences & Spine has extensive experience in treating GBS. Patients with the disorder benefit from the close collaboration of the neurology care team working together with physical medicine and rehabilitation. This coordinated treatment plan offers patients one location to receive the most advanced medical care available for their individual condition.
The goal of treatment is to control symptoms, which sometimes involves treating the underlying cause, if known (such as diabetes). When the underlying cause is corrected, neuropathies often improve on their own. What treatment is given also depends on how severe the symptoms are. Simply controlling pain can be an important part of neuropathy treatment. The most aggressive therapy is usually reserved for symptoms that greatly interfere with daily functioning.
Therapies for controlling pain caused by polyneuropathy may include:
When more aggressive treatment is needed for progressive types of neuropathy causing serious physical dysfunction, some options include:
Certain lifestyle choices and wellness techniques may help people with polyneuropathy manage their disorder.
Alternative therapies have helped ease symptoms of neuropathy in some patients. Astrid Pujari, MD, is a physician trained in Integrative medicine (holistic medicine) and Western medicine. She offers monthly group sessions at Virginia Mason Medical Center to discuss nutrition, supplements, cancer, mind-body practice and holistic medicine. In addition, Dr. Pujari and other practitioners offer seminars on using illness as a means of transformation.
Although alternative therapies have not been studied as extensively as drug treatments for neuropathies, most are relatively safe to use. They include:
For more information about polyneuropathy, contact Virginia Mason Franciscan Health's Center for Neurosciences & Spine at 206-341-0420.