What is it?

Neuropathy is a condition of the nerves that causes pain, numbness and/or tingling. While, technically, many conditions are a form of neuropathy, most people tend to think of peripheral neuropathy when using the term neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy usually starts in the hands or feet as numbness or tingling. Over time, these symptoms can progress to pain. Patients most often describe the pain as a burning type of pain.

The most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. It is then commonly referred to as diabetic neuropathy. Other causes can be kidney disease, HIV, or alcohol dependence. It can also occur for unknown reasons. In the latter case, it is called idiopathic peripheral neuropathy.

Is there a cure?

Conventional wisdom is that, if the primary disease that causes the neuropathy is cured or controlled early, the neuropathy can be reversed. So, if the neuropathy is due to diabetes, kidney disease, HIV, or alcohol dependence, rigorous treatment of these conditions is necessary. However, neuropathy is often permanent.

Once it becomes chronic, treatment is focused on managing the symptoms, rather than attempting to cure it.

Therapies & Procedures

Common symptom management therapies include antidepressant medications, anticonvulsant medications, opioid medications, mild aerobic exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, and chronic pain rehabilitation programs.

Date of publication: April 27, 2012

Date of last modification: October 23, 2015

Murray J. McAllister, PsyD, is a pain psychologist and consults to health systems on improving pain. He is the editor and founder of the Institute for Chronic Pain (ICP). The ICP is an educational and public policy think tank. In its mission is to lead the field in making pain management more empirically supported, the ICP provides academic quality information on chronic pain that is approachable to patients and their families. 

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