If your regular physician believes that you have developed peripheral neuropathy, they may refer you to specialists who deal with this type of disease, called neuropathy doctors. This specialty doctor diagnoses, treats and helps to prevent diseases that are associated with the nerves. In layman’s terms, peripheral neuropathy is some type of damage to the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is the complex system that passes messages from the spinal cord and the brain to the rest of the body.
Unfortunately, this disease is not only difficult to diagnose due to the variability of symptoms, it is also complicated to pinpoint exactly where the problem lies or how it began. Either your physician or your neurologist will start by inquiring about your symptoms and exploring for signs of numbness, weakness and reflexes that display impairment of some sort. They may also perform urine and blood tests to verify whether or not you exhibit any metabolic or vitamin deficiencies.
Other procedures that neuropathic doctors perform to assess your nerves:
EMG (electromyogram) – This test will measure the electric activity of your muscles. Often this test is performed with another test that will measure the conducting function of your nerves.
NCV (nerve conduction velocity) – This is one of the tests that will check for the conducting function of your nerves. Normally, the EMG and the NCV will be done during the same visit to your neurologist. With these two tests, neuropathy doctors can distinguish the normal nerves from the abnormal nerves and determine the part of the structure that is exhibiting damage.
Nerve and Muscle Biopsies – These tests can provide the doctor with vital information about the cause and possibly even the type of neuropathy that you are experiencing.
Spinal Tap (lumbar puncture) – This test is often recommended to assist in identifying inflammation or infection that could be related to the type of neuropathy.
Family History Assessment – Sometimes, a review of medical records of any family member who has demonstrated symptoms that were similar or was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy will help the doctor to determine hereditary relations between what you are experiencing and what your family member has gone through.
Symptoms range widely, considering the sheer amount of nerves the entire body has stemming from the brain and the spinal cord to the rest of the body. However, people with peripheral nerve damage have exhibited muscle weakness, which is the most common symptom of people with motor nerve damage. Other symptoms that people with peripheral neuropathy have experienced include fasciculations, which is uncontrollable twitching of the muscles that is often visible underneath the skin, painful cramping, loss of muscles, changes in the hair, nails and skin, and bone degeneration.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) spends their time devoted to studying peripheral neuropathy. Some of the current projects that the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke include examination of the hereditary factors that are related to neuropathies, studies of diabetes-related neuropathies, and gaining a better perception of how peripheral nerve damage and the immune system are interrelated.