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What is polyneuropathy?

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Quick Answer

Polyneuropathy is the most common type of a group of disorders known as peripheral neuropathy. It is caused by damage to peripheral nerves, and causes nerves throughout the body to malfunction, says Virginia Mason.

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While there are several causes of polyneuropathy, most symptoms remain relatively constant and include pain, numbness, tingling or burning, hypersensitivity, and weakness in the arms or legs, according to Virginia Mason. Additional neuropathies can involve muscles that are used in swallowing, breathing or eye movement. Typically, neuropathies are acquired, heredity or idiopathic, meaning they have no known cause.

The most common form of acquired neuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, which results from poorly controlled blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, as reported by Virginia Mason. Less common is mononeuropathy, caused by diabetes and characterized by weakness of the eyes or of the thigh muscles. Exposure to certain toxins, poor nutrition, infections, traumatic injuries and autoimmune disorders can also cause acquired neuropathies. While less common, heredity neuropathies are the result of a specific gene that is passed from parent to child. Idiopathic neuropathy typically occurs in people over the age of 60 and progresses slowly or remains unchanged after initial onset.

The goal of treatment for polyneuropathy is to control the symptoms, reports Virginia Mason. Over-the-counter pain medications can be used to alleviate mild symptoms, and prescription painkillers can treat more severe pain. Corticosteroids and anti-seizure medications also help to relieve nerve pain and inflammation.

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