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What Are the Causes of Neuropathy in the Feet & Legs?

author image Dr. Susan Jewell
Health expert and network TV/radio/Internet host, Dr. Susan Jewell has appeared on CBS, Fox News, ABC and NBC. She is a health blogger and producer, and currently produces several webisode/TV series on "how-tos on health and living green." Dr. Jewell trained in clinical research medicine in cancer and AIDS/HIV at NIH and UCLA.
What Are the Causes of Neuropathy in the Feet & Legs?
Neuropathy affects all parts of body, including the legs and feet. Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Neuropathy is a term given to nerve damage that affects all regions of the body. Proximal neuropathy refers to nerve damage of the legs and arms; peripheral neuropathy refers to nerve damage of the extremities, such as the feet and hands. The many causes of foot and leg neuropathy can be categorized as inherited, for example, diabetic neuropathy, or acquired, from trauma or injuries. Symptoms can include tingling, loss of sensation, muscle weakness and pain. See you doctor to determine the underlying cause of your neuropathy.

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The leading cause of leg and foot neuropathy is diabetes mellitus. Chronic, long-term effects of high blood glucose levels result in irreversible nerve damage to the legs and feet. Primary therapy for preventing or reducing the risk of peripheral neuropathy is strict control of blood sugars, regular diet and exercise. Diabetes is managed with insulin medications and various interventions, such as acupuncture to help alleviate pain and physical therapy to increase blood flow to the affected areas of the leg and feet.

Endocrine Imbalances

Imbalances in the production of hormones can be a cause of leg and foot neuropathy. For example, acromegaly is caused by the overproduction of growth hormone in the body. This results in enlargement of the bones, joints, tendons and ligaments. Compression of nerves traversing the legs and feet can result in neuropathy. Hypothyroidism is another condition that causes edema or fluid retention and tissue swelling, resulting in compression and increased pressure to nerves running along the legs and feet.

Alcoholism and Nutritional Deficiencies

Neuropathy can be caused by nutritional and vitamin deficiencies. Thiamine and vitamins are necessary for maintaining optimum functioning of nerves and nervous conductivity. Thiamine deficiency can cause painful distal neuropathy due to nerve degeneration. This condition is more likely in alcoholics with poor nutritional status. Certain vitamins, such as, B1, E, B12, B6, and niacin, are vitally important for preventing or reducing peripheral neuropathy. A direct effect of chronic alcoholism is what is known as alcoholic neuropathy, the irreversible damage done to nerve fibers in the legs and feet.

Toxins and Drugs

Toxins and poisons can result in peripheral neuropathy. Heavy metals such as lead, mercury and thallium can increase the risks of getting neuropathy of the legs and feet. Medications can also have neuropathic side effects if used on long-term treatment basis. These include anticonvulsants, antiviral medications, antibiotics and certain cancer treatment drugs. Early signs are tingling in the leg and feet, numbness and difficulty in walking and balance.

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