Sometimes referred to as Poly Neuropathy, it is the malfunction of numerous peripheral nerves throughout the body all at the same time. Acute polyneuropathy may begin suddenly as opposed to chronic polyneuropathy which gradually develops over months and years.
Acute poly neuropathy may be due to a bacterial infection like diphtheria, an autoimmune reaction or exposure to toxic substances like lead, mercury, carbon monoxide, some antibiotics, some drugs used to treat convulsions, drugs used for chemotherapy, and some sedatives. Multiple myeloma can also cause polyneuropathy through direct invasion and compression on the nerves.
Chronic polyneuropathy has no known cure. It is frequently seen in diabetics, alcoholics and anemics due to a deficiency in vitamin B12. Sometimes, certain cancers like lung cancer may lead to a chronic polyneuropathy, aside from hypothyroidism, liver and kidney failure.
Diabetic neuropathy is the term used for the several forms of polyneuropathy which stem from the poor maintenance of blood glucose levels in diabetes. It can cause a tingling and numbing sensation in the legs, feet, arms and hands due to the damage the elevated glucose in the blood has caused. It is known as distal polyneuropathy. Pain is usually at its worst during the night and is aggravated by touch or temperature change. Sores develop on the flesh since pain is not sensed in the areas the affected nerve supplies. Diabetes also causes mononeuropathies in the eye and thigh muscles. In both types of polyneuropathies, the pins-and-needles sensation or loss of sensation in both legs are commonly felt. But with the chronic type, it is only the sensation that is affected. It is also accompanied by numbness, burning pain, loss of vibration sense and position sense. Walking and standing become unsteady thus the muscles will atrophy from lack of use.
Autonomic functions are also affected. The autonomic nerves are responsible for the involuntary functions in the body like blood pressure, heart rate, digestive processes and urinary processes. Characteristic symptoms include constipation, fecal or urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction and orthostatic hypotension, which is an abrupt drop in blood pressure when the person stands up. The hereditary form of polyneuropathy is seen in patients having hammer toes, high arches and scoliosis, with mild sensation and muscle weakness.
To diagnose polyneuropathy properly, doctors correlate the symptoms of loss of sensation in the feet with the results of their physical examination, electromyography and nerve conduction studies. Blood and urine tests are also done to aid the diagnosis. Sometimes, a nerve biopsy is done to check the extent of damage in the nerves affected.
Treatment for polyneuropathy is based on its specific cause, like, for diabetes; treatment is the control of blood glucose. Physical therapy is sometimes used to alleviate the weakness felt in the limbs. Some medications are also prescribed to diminish the pain. In each case of poly neuropathy, it is essential to identify its cause first to be able to treat it the right way.