Peripheral neuropathy - Symptoms 

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy 

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy often develop first in the extremities of the body, such as the hands, feet, legs and arms.

However, symptoms of peripheral neuropathy vary depending on the type of neuropathy.

Most cases affect the sensory and motor nerves. This type of neuropathy is called generalised sensorimotor polyneuropathy. 

Sensorimotor polyneuropathy

Symptoms of generalised sensorimotor polyneuropathy 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 pain, usually in the feet and legs, followed by the hands and arms as the neuropathy progresses
  • sharp stabbing pain, which is often worse at night (the feet and legs are often affected first, followed by the hands and arms)
  • muscle weakness
  • loss of co-ordination
  • muscle paralysis
  • increased risk of developing foot problems, such as skin infections and ulcers

Some people with peripheral neuropathy also develop dysesthesia. Dysesthesia is where you experience problems with your sense of touch, which can cause the following symptoms:

  • a burning or tingling sensation in your skin
  • abnormally sensitive skin that often causes severe pain when you come into contact with objects such as bedding or towels

Automatic neuropathy

Damage to the automatic nerves (automatic neuropathy) can result in a wide range of symptoms depending on where in the body the damage occurs.

Symptoms of automatic neuropathy include:


In some cases, the damage that is caused by peripheral neuropathy is limited to a single nerve or group of nerves. This is known as mononeuropathy.

Symptoms of mononeuropathy include:

  • double vision or other problems with focusing your eyes
  • eye pain
  • weakness or paralysis in one side of your face (Bell’s palsy)
  • foot or shin pain
  • chest pain

Another type of mononeuropathy is known as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). The carpal tunnel is a small tunnel that runs from the bottom of your wrist to your lower palm. Running through the carpal tunnel is a nerve known as the median nerve. In cases of CTS, the space inside the tunnel shrinks, placing pressure on the median nerve. Compression of the nerve results in symptoms of pain and numbness.

It is estimated that almost 5% of women and 3% of men have carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition is more common in people with diabetes. It is estimated that up to 8% of people with type 2 diabetes and 85% of people with type 1 diabetes will develop carpal tunnel syndrome at some point in their life. 

When to seek medical advice

Generally, the sooner peripheral neuropathy is diagnosed, the lower the chance of serious complications. Therefore, it is important to remain alert for the early signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, such as:

  • a cut, graze or ulcer on your foot that does not appear to be getting better
  • feelings of numbness, weakness, tingling or pain in your hands and feet
  • dizziness when standing up, which could be the result of low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • changes in your normal bowel and bladder functions, such as persistent diarrhoea or constipation, or a sudden episode of bowel incontinence

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

It is also recommended that people with pre-existing risk factors for peripheral neuropathy have regular check-ups, so that their nerve function can be assessed. Read about the causes of peripheral neuropathy for more information.

Page last reviewed: 27/06/2012

Next review due: 27/06/2014


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The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Pookyface said on 23 February 2014

In addition to many of the symptoms described, my legs give way without warning, so I frequently fall and cause additional injury by colliding with nearby objects.
My legs intermittently refusing to work when I'm seated or walking, I have no option but wait until what passes for normal service resumes. When this first started it lasted thirty to forty minutes, now it lasts close to three hours.
This condition started in my big toe, and now is all through me, feet, legs, back, shoulders, neck, arms and hands, the latter are freezing cold, feel numb, the tips of my fingers have a stinging nettle sensation. I experience severe pain throughout my body 24/7 pain killers have no effect. I have no feeling in my feet and my balance is effected, I need to focus on a fixed object to remain vertical. In a black out situation I would fall and not be aware I was going down.
I was first diagnosed in 1998 and it has worsened all down the years. Walking is agony and high risk made worse by heart related condition, breathlessness, severe dizziness which can lead to passing out on occasion. I am very tall and heavy which contributes greatly to my problems, I feel the use of a wheelchair is not far off although I dread the thought. I too use multivitamins but they make no difference to the various types of neuropathy that afflict me, I feel this condition is for life.

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Woodlandia said on 19 November 2013

Thanks. As I said I am supplementing well with all the vitamins and nutrients to help with the nerve damage. No deficiency of B12 at all. It's related to the General Anaesthetic/ME/Virus/stress/anxiety.

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mellymoo01 said on 17 June 2013

does this include swelling of the face, hands, ankles, legs and pains in the teeth and disturbed sleep because i already have all of these symptons, but my skin gets a faint rash and i cant wash often because of the burning on my hands and cant feel the warmth on my feet.

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lesbud1 said on 01 May 2013

woodlandia have you looked on the website for information on b12 deficiency?

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wiggsy45 said on 22 February 2013

I have 5 collapsed disc from l2 down to s1,I have a lot of the problems with tingling in my feet and hands weakness in my legs Have been walking round on my hands and feet not been sleeping because of the pills I' taking !!!! but they don't work been like this now for 7 months.

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Woodlandia said on 06 November 2011

I have autonomic neuropathy from toes to throat. It's affected every part of my body including my heart, liver, bowel, bladder and BP. I'm on gabapentin and nortriptyline. I cannot take codeine or morphine. I am in constant burning pain all hands feet and limbs are very painful. I get the feeling of a corset around my middle...very tight and sore. The drugs help block some of the pain, but not all. I take supplements to help keep the nerves as healthy as possible. I don't get them on the NHS! I'm fighting for my welfare benefits at present which is making the neuropathy worse. My condition followed years of ME/CFS and anxiety and was triggered by surgery and an infection. I try and keep as cheerful as I can.

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sweetpea70 said on 06 January 2010

I was a longterm diabetic (25 years) until my kidney/pancreas transplant in 2007. In the last year, I have suffered with pain on walking and have to use a stick when the pain gets too much. I have ify balance at the best of times and pain in my hands and arms too.I have been checked by vascular, muscular and skeletal specialists to no avail. The last resort is a neurologist as they think it may be peripheral neuropathy but why now when im no longer diabetic (until my transplant packs in that is)

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Harvey9 said on 02 January 2010

Please could you add more information on autonomic neuropathy. My son is a long term diabetic and has autonomic and peripherel neuropathy. His senses are very acute and he feels the pain even from clothes touching his skin. He cannot stand the pain from walking and is on many drugs to alieviate this but to no avail.


Christine Smith

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