What is Neuropathy?

by Waden E. Emery III MD FAAN, – Neuromuscular Neurologist
Board Certified in Neurology, Asst Clinical Professor in Neurology
Miller School of Medicine University of Miami

Neuropathy is not one single disease, but several kinds of conditions resulting from damage to one or more of your Peripheral Nerves.

Your nervous system consists of two primary systems, the Peripheral Nervous System and the Central Nervous System.

What is Neuropathy?

The Central Nervous System is made up of the brain and spinal cord.

The Peripheral Nervous System is the largest nervous system of the human body running throughout your entire body except for your brain and your spinal cord, and is separated into two distinct systems, the Somatic Nervous System and the Autonomic Nervous System.

  • The Somatic (or Voluntary) Nervous System consisted of the voluntary skeletal muscles which control body movements. These include your hands, arms, feet, legs etc. This is the system that is most associated with Peripheral Neuropathy. The somatic nervous system (SNS) is made up of nerves that are connected to skin, muscles and sensory organs (the eyes, ears, nose, skin, etc.). This system enables our voluntary control of muscles, as well as our reception of sights, sounds, sensations (i.e. touch and pain), tastes and smells.
  • Autonomic (or Automatic) Nervous System – controls all automatic bodily functions which are not consciously directed, such as your breathing, your heartbeat, and your digestive processes. Areas of your body controlled by your Autonomic Nervous System include your stomach, intestines, bladder, heart, lungs, and sex organs. When these areas are affected by Neuropathy it is referred to as Autonomic Neuropathy.

Autonomic Neuropathy is a Peripheral Neuropathy. That is to say every person that has Autonomic Neuropathy has Peripheral Neuropathy, but everyone that has Peripheral Neuropathy may or may not have Autonomic Neuropathy.

Peripheral Neuropathy usually affects the hands and feet, causing weakness, numbness, tingling and pain. It can also result in trouble with balance and walking, as well as in problems with grasping items, such as a coffee cup or salt shaker. Peripheral Neuropathy’s course is variable; it can come and go, slowly progressing over many years, or it can become severe and debilitating. However, if diagnosed early, Peripheral Neuropathy can often be controlled.

What is Neuropathy

Human Nerve Cell

Neuropathy is a result of damage to the nerves most often found in the Peripheral Nervous System that controls the motor, sensory, or autonomic nerves required to transmit voluntary and involuntary messages to the brain. Neuropathy can affect or damage the axon (actual nerve), and/or the myelin (covering of the nerves which assists in the transmission signals). Neuropathy can also affect or damage the small and/or large fiber nerves. Small Fiber Neuropathy can now be diagnosed with a simple skin biopsy.


Neuropathy Journal Articles You May Find Helpful


Autonomic NeuropathyLiving with Autonomic Neuropathy In looking at the various components of the autonomic nervous system which can be affected by autonomic neuropathy, these authorities note that it can and does affect the urinary, the cardiac (heart beat), digestive, pulmonary (breathing) systems, it also affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature, tearing, sexual functions, blood pressure, saliva production, swallowing among other body systems that function automatically…READ MORE

Small-Fiber-Neuropathy Small Fiber Neuropathy So many neuropathy patients have heard these words from very qualified neurologists and health professionals. “Your EMG and Nerve Conduct Studies are normal. You do not have neuropathy”… not so quick. Dr. Norman Latov of Cornell University states that the EMG and Nerve Conduct Studies only measure damage to…READ MORE

Neuropathy-Journal-thumb-3Diabetic Neuropathy According to the experts, diabetic neuropathy is the most common cause of about 50% of all neuropathies. Dr. Todd Levine recently participated in a Facebook chat on the subject of “Understanding Pre-Diabetes, Diabetes, and Diabetic Neuropathy”. Some doctors deny the existence of neuropathy from ‘pre-diabetes’ but see the following two references: 1. Norman Latov, MD…READ MORE

Celiac Disease Caused NeuropathyCeliac Disease and Neuropathy Dr. Howard Sander’s published an article on “The Link Between Celiac Disease and Neuropathy” and was featured on The Neuropathy Associations website before they closed on Dec 31, 2014 and brings attention to the need for some patients presenting with neuropathy and the symptoms of Celiac Disease to be tested. Howard. W. Sander, M.D. is a…READ MORE

Neuropathy-Journal-thumb-5Medication Induced Neuropathy Peter D. Donofrio, M.D. is professor of Neurology and director of the Neuromuscular Division of the Department of Neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He is director of Neuropathy Center at Vanderbilt. To read his excellent article on Medication Induced Neuropathy and insights on the LIMITS of the blood-brain barrier a concept which was often misused by…READ MORE