Idiopathic polyneuropathy means that the cause of the nerve damage isn’t known.
Acquired means the polyneuropathy is caused by an event that happens outside the body, such as a traumatic injury or an infection. It may also be caused by an underlying condition that’s not treated well or causing complications, such as a vitamin deficiency, diabetes, or cancer.
Hereditary polyneuropathy is passed on to you genetically by one of your parents. These conditions usually cause slow and gradual nerve damage, such as in Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
Acute forms can happen because of several different causes. These include:
Chronic forms are often idiopathic, but they can also have causes such as:
Symptoms can vary depending on what’s causing them. The most common symptoms include:
A full physical exam will help your doctor discover what parts of your body are most affected by your nerve damage and pain. A physical can also help your doctor find any weak or atrophied muscles that may have been affected by nerve damage.
Your doctor may also perform electrical nerve and muscle tests to see the extent of nerve damage.
A blood test, urine samples, and biopsy of the area affected by nerve damage (sometimes including your nerves, too) will also help your doctor figure out the cause and extent of polyneuropathy. Other tests may be necessary if your doctor suspects an underlying condition. A spinal tap or lumbar puncture can help your doctor find out if your protein and white blood cell levels are abnormal. Abnormal results can mean that you have Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Treatment of polyneuropathy depends on the condition that caused it. It can also depend on where in your body you feel symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may give you pain medications to help manage the pain and discomfort from nerve damage. These can include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Making lifestyle changes may help treat your polyneuropathy. Drinking less alcohol or avoiding certain repetitive tasks can help relieve your symptoms.
If a toxin or chemical in your environment is causing your polyneuropathy, your doctor may urge you to find a way to limit your exposure to it.
For traumatic injuries
If you’re having polyneuropathy after a traumatic injury, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. This can help you regain full control of your body. You can also learn how to manage the nerve pain and sensations that may have been caused by the injury.
For autoimmune conditions
If an autoimmune condition is causing your polyneuropathy, your doctor may suggest different treatments or therapies. These can include:
If diabetes is causing your polyneuropathy, your doctor will likely recommend a treatment plan to help you get your blood sugar levels under control. This type of treatment plan often includes oral medications or self-administered insulin injections. In rare cases of Type 1 diabetes, your doctor may suggest a surgery to transplant insulin-producing cells (known as islet cells) from a donor pancreas to help your body produce and release more insulin. This is a significant surgery and will likely only be recommended if all other treatments fail.
If cancer cells or cancerous tumors are causing your polyneuropathy, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cells or tumors. Chemotherapy may help remove tumors or cancerous cells that are putting stress or pressure on your nerves.
You can help reduce nerve damage by catching certain conditions early. That way, you can get treatment before pain or discomfort becomes difficult to manage.
If you have any noticeable symptoms of polyneuropathy, especially after a major injury, see your doctor as soon as possible. They can determine if you have any conditions that may be causing polyneuropathy. Treating your symptoms early is the best way to keep polyneuropathy from disrupting your life.