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Disorders of the Peripheral Nervous System

author image Norene Anderson
Norene Anderson has been a writer since 2003. She is also a registered nurse with expertise in a wide range of medical conditions and treatments. Anderson received her associate degree in nursing from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.
Disorders of the Peripheral Nervous System
A nurse marks off a chart while his patient lays unconscious in a hospital bed. Photo Credit KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images


The two major nervous systems of the body are the central and peripheral systems. Disorders of the peripheral nervous system include all nerve pathways outside the brain and spinal cord. Disease symptoms include muscle weakness, paralysis and sensory dysfunction. Causes for peripheral nerve damage include genetics, infections, trauma and autoimmune disorders.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, or CMT, is a group of genetic peripheral nervous system disorders. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that CMT affects about one out of every 2,500 people in the United States. CMT, also known as hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy, affects the peripheral nerves, with symptoms such as foot drop or other foot deformities, including high arches. Weakness may affect the muscle tone in the lower legs and the hands. Nerve degeneration leads to the reduction in sensing heat and cold or in the awareness of pain. Treatment consists of physical therapy, occupational therapy and assistive devices, as needed.

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Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is a commonly reported peripheral nervous system disorder that results as a complication from diabetes. As many as 50 percent of diabetics develop nerve damage, or neuropathy. High blood glucose levels and a decrease in blood flow cause nerve injuries, according to MedlinePlus. Affected areas include the legs and arms, with symptoms such as muscle cramps, weakness, numbness, tingling in the feet and insensitivity to heat or cold. Other symptoms that manifest with diabetic neuropathy include the loss of bladder control, vision changes, dizziness and drooping of the eyelids, face or mouth. In order to slow the progression or reduce the extent of damage to the peripheral nervous system, the blood glucose level must be controlled through frequent monitoring and medications as prescribed.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barr syndrome is a serious autoimmune disease that leads to peripheral nerve damage. The disease causes the immune system to attack itself, and that leads to inflammation of the nerves. The nerve inflammation causes weakness in the muscles of the legs and arms. In addition, the muscles used for breathing become weak. Numbness and uncoordinated movement manifest as the nerve damage spreads. Symptoms such as difficulty breathing or swallowing require immediate medical attention. Treatment includes supportive care for breathing difficulties and physical therapy. Other options include plasmapheresis to remove antibodies from the blood or immunoglobulins to block inflammation-causing antibodies. Recovery time varies from weeks to years.

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