Peripheral neuropathy refers to a condition that results from damage to the peripheral nervous system—the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy usually begin with numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, followed by more severe complications. Many different factors can damage the nerves and cause peripheral neuropathy, including diseases, infections or certain medications. Peripheral neuropathy that is caused by drugs is called drug-induced peripheral neuropathy or secondary peripheral neuropathy.
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Highly Toxic Chemotherapy Drugs
Many of the chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer are highly toxic and can kill neurons. Arsenic trioxide, sold under the brand name Trisenox; bortezomib, sold as Velcade; docetaxel, sold as Taxotere; oxaliplatin, sold as Eloxatin; and paclitaxel, sold as Taxol, have been shown to cause peripheral neuropathy in more than 30 percent of patients treated with these medications, according to the University of New Mexico Cancer Center.
Less Toxic Chemotherapy Drugs
The University of New Mexico Cancer Center also reports other chemotherapy agents have been shown to cause peripheral neuropathy in 10 to 29 percent of patients treated, including alemtuzumab, sold under the brand name Campath; altretamine, sold as Hexalen; capecitabine, sold as Xeloda; carboplatin, sold as Paraplatin; cisplatin, sold as Platinol; dacarbazine, sold as DTIC-Dome; denileukin diftitox, sold as Ontak; fludarabine, sold as Fludara; interferon alpha, sold as Intron; liposomal daunorubicin, sold as DaunoXome; tretinoin, sold as Vesanoid; vinblastine, sold as Velban; vinorelbine, sold as Navelbine, and vincristine, sold as Oncovin.
Several medications used to treat the human immnodeficiency virus, or HIV, carry a risk of inducing peripheral neuropathy. These drugs include stavudine, sold as Zerit; zalcitabine, sold as Hivid; ritonavir, sold as Norvir; amprenavir, sold as Agenerase; zidovudine, sold as Retrovir, formerly AZT; and didanosine, sold as Videx.
Medications for Other Infections
Drugs used to treat many different types of infection also increase the risk of peripheral neuropathy. Iisoniazid, which is sold under the brand name INH, and ethambutol, brand name Myambutol, are two medicines used to treat tuberculosis that sometime result in damage to the peripheral nerves. Leprosy is treated with thalidomide, brand name Thalomid, which can cause peripheral neuropathy. Several antimicrobial agents are also linked to an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy, including chloroquine, nitrofurantoin, chloramphenicol and metronidazole, which is sold as Flagyl.
Heart disease and high blood pressure are sometimes treated with drugs that can induce peripheral neuropathy, such as amiodarone, hydralazine, perhexiline and indapamide, which is sold as Lozol. Dapsone is a prescription drug used to treat certain skin conditions that increases the risk of nerve damage. Phenytoin, which is prescribed to prevent seizures, and disulfiram, which is given to fight alcohol addition, both have been linked to peripheral neuropathy. The medications aurothioglucose, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis; colchicine, prescribed to prevent gout attacks; and cimetidine, used to treat ulcers, have also been shown to cause damage to the peripheral nerves.