The peripheral nerves include the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord such as nerves of the face, arms, legs and torso. These peripheral nerves use electrical signals to communicate between the brain and muscles, skin, and internal organs.
When damaged, peripheral nerves can't communicate properly. There are many diseases that can damage the peripheral nerves. Examples include:
- diseases of the endocrine system, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism
- diseases that are caused by a virus, like Guillain-Barre syndrome
- conditions that compress nerves, like carpal tunnel syndrome
- autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- infections including viruses such as shingles, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and HIV
- kidney dysfunction where large amounts of toxins build up in the body and damage the peripheral nerves
- cancers that put pressure on surrounding nerves or tumours that arise directly from nerve tissue
- chemotherapy for cancer can also cause damage to peripheral nerves
- exposure to toxins including some medicines, industrial toxins (lead, mercury, arsenic), and heavy alcohol consumption are known to damage peripheral nerves
Peripheral nerves can also be damaged by physical injury including trauma (such as an accident), damage during surgery, or repetitive stress. Some people are born with peripheral nerve disorders.
If you have peripheral nerve damage you may experience symptoms including:
- muscle problems, including weakness, cramps, twitching and wasting
- sensory changes, including tingling, numbness, burning, or sharp pain, or shock
- sensitivity to touch
- low blood pressure
Depending on which nerves are affected, you might also experience bowel changes (such as diarrhoea or constipation), intolerance to heat, and other changes in your blood pressure that can make you feel light-headed.
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Last reviewed: July 2020