Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy 

Depending on the cause of the peripheral neuropathy, symptoms may develop slowly or quickly.

The specific symptoms of peripheral neuropathy vary according to the type of peripheral neuropathy you have. There are three main types:

  • sensory neuropathy affects the nerves that carry messages of touch, temperature, pain and other sensations to the brain
  • motor neuropathy affects the nerves that control movement
  • autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control involuntary bodily processes, such as digestion and your heartbeat

In many cases, someone with peripheral neuropathy may have more than one of these types of neuropathy at the same time.

In particular, a combination of sensory and motor neuropathy is common. This is called sensorimotor polyneuropathy.

The symptoms of the main types of peripheral neuropathy are described below.

Sensory neuropathy

Symptoms of sensory neuropathy can include:

  • prickling and tingling sensation in the affected body part (pins and needles)
  • numbness and a reduced ability to feel pain or changes in temperature, particularly in your feet
  • a burning or sharp pain, usually in the feet and legs
  • feeling pain from something that should not be painful at all, such as a very light touch (allodynia)
  • loss of balance or co-ordination

Motor neuropathy

Symptoms of motor neuropathy can include:

  • twitching and muscle cramps
  • muscle weakness or paralysis affecting one or more muscles
  • thinning (wasting) of muscles
  • foot drop (difficulty lifting up the front part of your foot and toes, particularly noticeable when walking)

Autonomic neuropathy

Damage to the autonomic nerves can result in a wide range of symptoms depending on where in the body the damage occurs.

Symptoms of autonomic neuropathy can include:

Mononeuropathy

Depending on the specific nerve affected, symptoms of mononeuropathy can include:

  • altered sensation or weakness in the fingers
  • double vision or other problems with focusing your eyes, sometimes with eye pain
  • weakness of one side of your face (Bell's palsy)
  • foot or shin pain, weakness or altered sensation

The most common type of mononeuropathy is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). The carpal tunnel is a small tunnel in your wrist. In CTS, the median nerve becomes compressed where it passes through this tunnel. This may cause tingling, pain or numbness in the fingers.

When to seek medical advice

Generally, the sooner peripheral neuropathy is diagnosed, the better the chance of limiting the damage. It is therefore important to remain alert for the early signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, such as:

  • pain, tingling or loss of sensation in the feet
  • loss of balance
  • a cut or ulcer on your foot that is not getting better
  • changes in your normal bowel and bladder functions, such as persistent diarrhoea or constipation
  • faintness on standing up

See your GP if you experience the above signs and symptoms.

It is also recommended that people with risk factors for peripheral neuropathy, such as diabetes, have regular check-ups.

Read about the causes of peripheral neuropathy for more information.

Page last reviewed: 02/07/2014

Next review due: 02/07/2016