What Is The Difference Between Neuropathy & Peripheral Neuropathy?

Person pressing a foot with their hands

The terms neuropathy and peripheral neuropathy are often used interchangeably when referring to a common condition caused by diabetes. But are they the same thing? With so many different types of neuropathies out there, it's important to learn as much about neuropathic conditions as possible. Doing so can help you avoid, manage, and live with neuropathy if you have developed the condition.

If you're seeking to understand more about the differences between neuropathy versus peripheral neuropathy and how they may affect you, we're here to help. Below, we'll discuss the differences between neuropathies, common causes and symptoms, and how you can work with your doctor to develop a neuropathy treatment plan unique to your specific situation.

What is the difference between neuropathy and peripheral neuropathy?

Neuropathy refers to any disease or condition that affects your body's nerves. Neuropathies are categorized depending on the type of nerves that are damaged or affected. There are four main types:

  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Cranial neuropathy
  • Autonomic neuropathy
  • Focal neuropathy

These categories can be broken down into additional categories, depending on the specific nerves that are damaged or the cause of the nerve damage.

Peripheral neuropathy is a type of neuropathy wherein nerve damage occurs to the peripheral nerves or any of the nerves that aren't within the brain or spinal cord. Peripheral nerve damage is most commonly centered in the feet, legs, hands, and arms.

There are over 100 types of peripheral neuropathy, which can be categorized into three main types:

  • Motor neuropathy

    These types of neuropathies occur when motor nerves — the nerves that control muscles for things like moving or talking — become damaged.

  • Sensory neuropathy

    Sensory neuropathies are categorized by damage to the sensory nerves. These nerves control things like temperature, touch, and pain.

  • Autonomic nerve neuropathy

    Autonomic neuropathies deal with damage to the autonomic nerves, which control unconscious body functions such as perspiration, breathing, heart rate, sexual drive, and more.

Peripheral neuropathy can also be classified depending on how many nerves are affected. The two main categories in this classification system are:

  • Mononeuropathy

    A single nerve or single type of nerve is affected. This type of peripheral neuropathy is often the result of an injury.

  • Polyneuropathy

    This type of neuropathy occurs when multiple nerves are damaged at the same time. Polyneuropathy can be caused by a wide variety of factors or events.

What causes neuropathy?

Many different things can cause neuropathy, including:

  • Health conditions such as diabetes
  • Poor diet choices that lead to vitamin deficiencies — especially vitamin B deficiencies
  • Autoimmune diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Infections such as HIV or Lyme disease
  • Alcoholism and substance abuse
  • Genetic disorders such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • Some medications such as chemotherapy
  • Exposure to heavy metals, chemicals, and other toxic substances
  • Physical trauma, injury, or continuous pressure on a nerve
  • Repetitive motions or strain
  • Tumors

There are also some cases in which there doesn't seem to be any cause of neuropathy. This is often referred to as idiopathic neuropathy.

Everyone has the potential to develop peripheral neuropathy, though some individuals are more at risk than others. You may be more likely to develop neuropathy if you:

  • Have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, or another health condition 
  • Abuse substances (including alcohol) 
  • Have a family history of neuropathy 
  • Are exposed to industrial chemicals or heavy metals
  • Perform repetitive motions for a job or hobby

Neuropathy versus peripheral neuropathy symptoms

Because there are so many different types of neuropathy, symptoms can vary drastically from patient to patient. Neuropathy symptoms can include everything from vertigo and blindness (symptoms of cranial neuropathies) to pain, weakness, or numbness in a specific area of the body (symptoms of peripheral and focal neuropathies).

Peripheral neuropathies share many common symptoms, including pain, tingling, numbness, muscle wasting and weakness, loss of sensation, hypersensitivity, and much more. Peripheral neuropathy pain is generally located in the arms, feet, hands, and legs, while other neuropathies may display the same symptoms in other parts of the body.

Diagnosing neuropathy versus peripheral neuropathy

Neuropathy and peripheral neuropathy may both be diagnosed in the same ways. Your doctor will likely perform a series of tests to determine if you have neuropathy. These tests may include:

  • Electromyography (EMG) tests
  • Nerve conduction tests
  • Blood tests
  • A physical exam and comprehensive medical history
  • Genetic testing
  • A tissue or skin biopsy

If your doctor finds that you do have neuropathy, they will then attempt to determine an underlying cause. Discovering and treating the underlying cause of your neuropathy is one of the best ways to manage your condition.

Treating your neuropathy symptoms

Neuropathy often displays itself through tingling or burning sensations. Peripheral neuropathy is no different, though it is much more apparent in the feet, legs, hands, and arms. Most neuropathies are chronic and have no cure, although some may be resolved or managed by treating the underlying condition.

Many types of neuropathy can be prevented by managing an underlying condition properly. For example, managing diabetes, reducing alcohol intake, or changing medications with a doctor's approval may prevent certain types of neuropathy.

If neuropathy does develop, there are many things patients can do to manage their symptoms and prevent the condition from progressing. Some treatment options include:

  • Lifestyle changes

    Changing your eating habits to include a healthier diet, getting enough rest, staying hydrated, and being physically active can positively impact both your nerve health and your overall health, especially for cases of diabetic neuropathy.

  • Medications

    Some types of neuropathy may respond well to medications such as immunosuppressants, antidepressants, or steroids. Unlike some other conditions, neuropathy does not usually respond to common painkillers such as ibuprofen. In some cases, topical creams and other medications may be used to help relieve pain.

  • Therapy

    Some people may benefit from physical therapy or behavioral therapy for symptoms such as muscle weakness or to help alleviate the negative effects neuropathy can have on mental health.

Neuropathy is often best managed through a combination of treatment options. However, it is up to you and your doctor to determine which treatments will best meet your needs.

At-home treatment options for neuropathy pain

Not all treatment options need to be complicated. Some of the best ways to manage early-stage neuropathic pain are also some of the simplest. If you or a loved one are experiencing pain caused by peripheral neuropathy, a pair of diabetic socks is a must-have for your treatment plan.

Here at Viasox, we're proud to be North America's most prominent provider of fancy, functional diabetic socks. Whether you're searching for non-binding diabetic socks for everyday wear or compression socks to help reduce swelling and discomfort, we can help. We offer a huge range of dedicated diabetic socks in a variety of styles and lengths to ensure you can find your perfect match.

All of our socks are thoughtfully designed for maximum comfort and protection so that you can continue to enjoy the highest quality of life. Visit us online today to shop our collection and find your new favorite pair of socks. Need help placing your order or answering a question? Our friendly team is always ready to lend a hand — reach out today to learn more about how we can help you.

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