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Neuropathy is any disorder in which the body’s nerves do not work properly due to damage. The nerve damage may be to a single nerve or a group of nerves. Nerve damage can cause pain or loss of feeling in the feet, legs, hands and arms.

Neuropathy: what you should know

  • Neuropathy symptoms depend on which nerve or group of nerves are damaged. Early signs of nerve damage include tingling or burning in your arms and legs, particularly in your toes and feet.   
  • There are many types of neuropathy (also known as peripheral neuropathy), including diabetic neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Polyneuropathy is when multiple nerves and limbs are affected.
  • Pain associated with nerve damage is referred to as neuropathic pain or neuralgia.
  • The most common cause of neuropathy is diabetes; however, many neuropathies have no known cause.
  • You can prevent some of the causes of neuropathy through the following:
    • Control your diabetes
    • Drink alcohol in moderation
    • Limit your exposure to lead and other toxic materials or chemicals

How can I get help for neuropathy?

The following health conditions may cause neuropathy:

  • An autoimmune disorder (such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus)
  • Repetitive-stress injury
  • Kidney disease
  • HIV
  • Liver infection
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Metabolic disease
  • Poor blood circulation in the legs
  • Lead poisoning
  • An underactive thyroid

Nerve damage can mask important warning signs in your body, such as chest pain (angina) or signs of low blood sugar. Call your primary care doctor if you have early signs of nerve damage, particularly if you have any of the above health conditions.

Care for neuropathy at Rush

  • If your primary care doctor recommends further evaluation, Rush has many specialists who can help you get to the root of your distress. These experts include neuromuscular physicians who specialize in treating neuropathy.
  • Diagnosis. To tailor a plan to your needs, your physician will conduct a comprehensive exam. This exam often includes electrodiagnostic testing, which may include the following:
    • Nerve conduction study and electromyography (EMG). This test looks for damage in the junctions where muscles meet nerves and measures your nerve function and health.
    • Skin biopsy. This minimally invasive test takes a small sample of skin for testing. It can be performed by a pain medicine physician.
    • Blood tests. Various blood work may help pin point the causes of neuropathy. Pain medicine physicians perform these tests routinely.
  • Treatment. Depending on the type of nerve damage, a variety of treatment options are used, often in combination. Your doctors will work with you to identify a plan that meets your specific needs.
  • The goal is to target the symptoms and the underlying cause of the neuropathy through some of the following:
  • Surgical options. For neuralgia (nerve pain) accompanying neuropathy or carpal tunnel that is not relieved by the medical options above, your doctor may refer you to an interventional pain medicine physician or neurosurgeon at Rush. Pain originating from the damaged nerves can be treated with the use of nerve stimulators, which can be performed as an outpatient basis.
  • Spinal cord stimulation. This involves blocking transmission of pain signals from the spine to the brain. Interventional pain management specialists perform these procedures, which typically can be performed with no surgical incision. It is used in the treatment of severe diabetic peripheral neuropathy patients.

Why choose Rush for neuropathy care

  • Neurological and neuromuscular physicians at Rush have expertise in diagnosing and treating neuropathy. This focus can help you find the right treatment plan to improve your quality of life.
  • If the underlying cause of your neuropathy needs treatment, your neuromuscular physician can work with a variety of other specialists at Rush. These specialists include those with expertise in autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis (which can cause nerve pain), diabetes, interventional pain medicine physicians and neuroseurgeons.
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS or RSD) is a type of neuropathy. Pain Medicine physicians at Rush were part of the international experts in formulating the diagnostic criteria and validation. Rush is one of the national leaders in cutting edge treatment protocols for CRPS and is a referral center for patients locally and internationally.

Departments and programs that treat this condition