The term polyneuropathy refers to simultaneous damage to many peripheral nerves throughout the body.
There are 100 different types of polyneuropathies. About 13% of the population over 55 years of age is affected.
Usually, polyneuropathy affects the long nerves first, and then the first ailments (symptoms) appear in the feet.
Polyneuropathy can come on suddenly and rapidly (acute) or persist over time (chronic).
The disorders (symptoms) caused by polyneuropathy can vary by type and develop slowly or rapidly.
In polyneuropathies in which damage to the sensory nerves prevails, disorders such as:
- pins and needles or burning sensation
- inability to feel pain or, conversely, the perception of pain by simple touch
- temperature changes (particularly in the feet)
If, on the other hand, i motor nerves, people will be able to warn:
- muscle cramps
- loss of reflexes
In polyneuropathies in which i nerves of the autonomic nervous system, the one that controls the involuntary functions of the body (such as blood pressure, heartbeat, digestion, salivation and bladder emptying), the typical disorders (symptoms) are:
- inability to control the bladder and intestines
- sexual dysfunction
- inconsistent changes in blood pressure
- sudden drop in blood pressure when the person stands up, frequent disturbance
The most common cause of polyneuropathy is diabetes, with additional risk factors such as:
- alcohol consumption
- increased blood pressure
- increase in harmful cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL)
- increased triglycerides
Furthermore, the disease can be caused by:
- autoimmune reactions, as in the Guillain-Barrè syndrome
- exposure to heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, mercury
- taking medications, such as antibiotics, anticonvulsants, sedatives, anticancer chemotherapy
- hereditary genetic alterations (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease)
- nutritional deficiencies (thiamine, vitamin B12)
- viruses or bacteria
- decreased functioning of the thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- chronic liver and kidney diseases
The assessment (diagnosis) of polyneuropathy, in general, is based on the present disorders. It is essential to verify the existence of any diabetes that the person is not aware of. An "electromyography", which consists of introducing a very small needle into the muscle to measure its electrical activity, may be required. nerve conduction test, applying small electrodes on the skin through which very slight electrical impulses stimulate the nerves and allow to measure the speed and strength of the nerve signal.
Treatments (therapies) can be directed against the causes of polyneuropathy (for example, therapies can be prescribed to control the underlying disease, such as in the case of diabetes, or to combat any nutritional deficiencies).
Some less common types of polyneuropathies can be treated with corticosteroids, powerful anti-inflammatory drugs, or with drugs that reduce the activity of the body's defense system (immune system).
However, the causes of polyneuropathy are not always curable.In these cases, painkiller therapy may be given to reduce (symptomatic) complaints.