Polyneuropathy is a disorder in the peripheral nervous system in which the nerves no longer properly transmit incoming stimuli to the brain. Discomfort and pain arise. Polyneuropathy is often triggered by one or more underlying diseases.
What is polyneuropathy?
Polyneuropathy is a disease of the peripheral (peripheral) nervous system (PNS). Peripheral nerves are the nerves that are not part of the central nervous system (CNS), which is located in the brain and spinal cord. See howsmb for Increased Intracranial Pressure Definition and Meaning.
Peripheral nerves begin as they exit the spine and branch out throughout the body, eventually branching out into muscles and skin. A distinction is made between motor and sensory nerves. The motor nerves are responsible for movements, the sensory ones for feeling in and on the body.
In polyneuropathy, the transmission of stimuli from the body to the brain is disrupted. The prefix “poly” means that many nerves are affected by the disease at the same time, “neuro” means “affecting the nerves” and “pathy” is the technical term for “disease”. Polyneuropathy can occur in different forms and is a common nerve disease.
To date, around 200 possible causes of polyneuropathy are known. A distinction is made between congenital and acquired polyneuropathy. The congenital form is relatively rare. It can be caused, for example, by a congenital disorder of nerve conduction speed or by an inherited enzyme defect.
Acquired polyneuropathy is far more common than the congenital form and is usually triggered by certain underlying diseases. The most common causes are diabetes (diabetes mellitus) and alcoholism (chronic alcohol abuse). In diabetes, the disturbed sugar metabolism leads to an undersupply and damage to the finely ramified nerves.
In alcoholism, the disorder occurs due to the toxic effects of alcohol. Drugs or toxic substances such as arsenic or lead can also cause toxic polyneuropathy. Other possible causes of polyneuropathy include kidney disease and long-term dialysis. Rarely, tumours, infections or deficiency diseases can also trigger polyneuropathy.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The disease can cause several different symptoms, depending on whether sensory, motor or autonomic nerve fibers are affected. If sensory nerves are damaged, perception in the arms and legs decreases. It usually starts with the toes or fingers. you start to tingle ; as the disease progresses, burning and stabbing pains are added.
The patient has the feeling that toes or fingers are swollen, although this is not really the case. Sensitivity to temperature and pain worsens, leading to an increased risk of injury. Patients could burn themselves or injure themselves without realizing it. If motor nerves are affected, this is reflected in a loss of strength in the corresponding muscles.
Muscle cramps can also occur, and calf cramps at night are very common. Paralysis is also possible, which can result in muscle atrophy. If the disease causes disorders in autonomic nerves, this can be life-threatening. Autonomous nerves supply organs such as the intestines, heart and lungs.
When damaged, the corresponding organ no longer functions. If the intestines are affected, diarrhea or constipation can result. In addition, emptying the bladder can be difficult and impotence is possible. If the disturbances are in the nerves of the heart muscle, this causes cardiac arrhythmias or blood pressure fluctuations. If the nerve conduction in the lungs is disturbed, respiratory arrest can occur in extreme cases.
Diagnosis & History
The symptoms of acquired polyneuropathy are very diverse and occur in different forms. Disorders of perception in the arms and legs are typical, with the legs being more frequently affected than the arms. Patients feel tingling in their limbs, as if they have “fallen asleep,” and are unable to sense heat and pressure, which can result in burns and other injuries.
Nocturnal calf cramps, burning feet, muscle twitching and restless legs are also typical. If the autonomic nervous system is also affected by the polyneuropathy, functional disorders can occur in the organs. In congenital polyneuropathy, there are often signs of paralysis, gait disorders and visual impairments, which can lead to blindness.
The diagnosis is made based on the patient’s symptoms and medical history. A neurological examination checks the functionality of the nerves and muscles. If polyneuropathy is suspected, nerve conduction velocity is also measured using electroneurography. A blood test can detect infections or detect toxic (poisonous) substances in the blood.
Due to the polyneuropathy, those affected suffer from severe pain and also from various abnormal sensations. As a rule, however, the further course of the disease depends heavily on the underlying disease, so that a general course cannot be predicted. The patients mainly suffer from sensory disturbances or paralysis.
Pain in the legs or arms can also occur and lead to restricted movement and other difficulties in everyday life. Furthermore, there is a typical tingling or cramps. The pain is often burning. There is also muscle twitching and muscle weakness. The patients themselves often feel irritable due to the constant pain and suffer from a significantly reduced quality of life.
Gait disorders and coordination disorders can also occur as a result of polyneuropathy. The eyesight is also often impaired by the disease, so that those affected can go completely blind in the worst case. The treatment of polyneuropathy depends on the underlying disease. As a rule, however, the complaints and symptoms of this disease can be limited well.
When should you go to the doctor?
Tingling in the arms or legs is considered a sign of an existing irregularity. If the symptoms occur temporarily, in most cases there is a circulatory disorder due to an unfavorable posture. If you are completely free of symptoms within a short period of time, you usually do not need a doctor. If the sensory disturbances increase in intensity or extent, a doctor should be consulted. A doctor’s visit is also recommended in the event of recurring symptoms. Additional pain or a loss of existing muscle strength are worrying.
In the case of signs of paralysis or impairment of locomotion, the person concerned needs help. A doctor should be consulted if there are limitations in general mobility, if you can no longer carry out sporting activities or if there is an internal weakness. In the case of cardiac arrhythmia, increased heartbeat, dizziness and unsteady gait, it is advisable to clarify the symptoms. If the person concerned suffers from diarrhea, constipation or general problems with urination, a doctor’s visit is necessary.
Abnormalities during the sexual act as well as irregular breathing must be examined and treated. If left untreated, polyneuropathy can be fatal. In addition, fears arise and the risk of secondary diseases increases. Therefore, a doctor’s visit should be made at the first signs of abnormalities or a feeling of illness.
Treatment & Therapy
The treatment of polyneuropathy is based on the cause. If the patient has diabetes or suffers from alcoholism, these diseases must be treated first, as they are the triggers for the polyneuropathy.
In the case of diabetes, the blood sugar must be optimally adjusted, the diet should also be tailored to the disease and a healthy lifestyle with sufficient exercise should be observed. Certain medications are also used to relieve sensory disturbances and pain. Careful foot care is also important to prevent infections from wounds.
If there is a polyneuropathy caused by alcoholism, vitamins are usually administered. Alcoholism sufferers often neglect their diet, resulting in vitamin deficiencies that lead to nerve damage. If the polyneuropathy was triggered by toxins, substances that bind the toxins are administered.
If there are infections, antibiotics will help. Furthermore, pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory drugs as well as exercise therapy, massages and physiotherapy support the treatment of polyneuropathy.
Polyneuropathy can be prevented by optimally controlling your blood sugar and maintaining a healthy lifestyle if you have diabetes. Alcoholism requires special treatment. With timely therapy, polyneuropathy can be prevented. In general, it is important to see a doctor immediately at the first sign of abnormal sensations in the legs or arms so that the polyneuropathy can be treated as early as possible.
Polyneuropathy is usually chronic and requires patience and perseverance from the patient. After the diagnosis has been made and medical treatment has been carried out, the patient can do a lot in the follow-up care to master his everyday life and to maintain his independence as much as possible. The priority is to avoid falls and injuries.
It is therefore important to concentrate on one activity and to train balance, coordination and perception regularly. Running, moderate hiking, and walking with and without poles can help. Relaxation methods such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga also bring improvement to many patients. Occupational therapy can alleviate symptoms and often regain lost abilities.
Physiotherapeutic exercises improve gait instability, balance and coordination. Regular contrast baths can make the tingling in the extremities more bearable. In the case of diabetic polyneuropathy, it is essential to ensure optimal blood sugar control in order to prevent progression.
The patient’s feet must be checked regularly and very carefully for minor injuries in order to prevent diabetic foot syndrome. Alcohol is a neurotoxin and should therefore be avoided as much as possible. An overall positive attitude towards life, good social contacts and psychological well-being can help the patient to lead a fulfilling life despite the polyneuropathy.
You can do that yourself
In the case of polyneuropathy, the focus is always on intensive skin care and targeted perception training of the affected extremities. Those affected can buy skin-friendly care products with a low pH value. Pharmacies and health food stores can ask for specific products.
When rubbed in in connection with a light skin massage, the metabolic stimulation in the tissue is additionally promoted. Patients can massage their affected extremities firmly with a hedgehog ball and thus train their perception. Simple home remedies such as an old hairbrush, rough doormat, etc. can also be useful for this.
Depending on the cause of the disease, a targeted change in diet can be helpful. If the disease is caused by diabetes, a targeted sugar diet will help slow the progression of the disease. Sports and regular series of exercises promote blood circulation and the associated gas exchange between blood and cell tissue. Care should be taken to ensure that the affected body areas are included separately in the exercise series.
Alternately warm baths, affusions and massages also promote blood flow in the affected area. If those affected have a Tens device, this can ensure that nerve activity is promoted with its gentle electrical impulses.