Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Peripheral neuropathy is the result of injury, compression, or irritation of a nerve or a branch of one of the nerves to your extremities. Unfortunately, idiopathic means unknown or arising spontaneously. Chronic peripheral neuropathy in which a cause cannot be identified can be extremely frustrating, but read on to find out more about treatments and preventative measures you can try.

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  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy?


The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves throughout the body that allows the brain and spinal cord to communicate with other parts of the body. The peripheral nerves are like the cables that connect the different parts of a computer or connect the Internet. When they malfunction, complex functions of the body malfunction as well [1].

More than an estimated 20 million people in the United States have some form of peripheral neuropathy.

Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy is a condition that occurs when this system of nerves is damaged, but no obvious underlying etiology is found. Despite the unknown etiology of this condition, there are treatments and measures you can take to help alleviate symptoms.

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Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms

Main symptoms

Peripheral neuropathy is often associated with loss of sensation in the fingers, hands, arms or feet. Many people have experienced this sensation when falling asleep for too long on a crooked arm or after activities such as prolonged typing. Often peripheral neuropathy is associated with symptoms such as:

  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Changes in sensitivity to touch
  • Swelling

Motor symptoms can also occur and include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Tripping over the feet
  • Poor grasp/grip
  • Muscle weakness
  • Painful cramps

These symptoms can range in severity and are rarely life-threatening. In most cases, symptoms resolve on their own and may not require escalation of care. Unlike nerve cells in the central nervous system, peripheral nerve cells continue to grow throughout life [1].

Types of peripheral neuropathy

There are many different classifications for peripheral neuropathy. One classification method involves the type of nerve that is affected/damaged.

  • Motor: Motor nerves control the movement of all muscles under conscious control, such as muscles used for walking, grasping things, or talking.
  • Sensory: Sensory nerves transmit feelings such as light touch, temperature, or the pain from a cut.
  • Autonomic: Autonomic nerves control organs that regulate activities that people do not consciously control, such as breathing and digesting food.

The second classification method involves the number of nerves affected.

  • Mononeuropathy: This means that only one nerve or its root is affected.
  • Polyneuropathy: This means that multiple nerves and nerve roots are affected.

Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy Causes

Many conditions can cause peripheral neuropathy. Although chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy has no obvious cause, it is important to know the other possibilities.

Idiopathic chronic peripheral neuropathy is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning your doctor will investigate all of the possible causes before coming to the conclusion/diagnosis of idiopathic disease.


Systemic conditions are those that affect the body and its components in multiple places or multiple different ways.

  • Metabolic: Dysfunction in the processes that your body uses day-to-day (for example, glucose and insulin dysregulation in diabetes) can damage the peripheral nerves, causing numbness in the hands and other parts of the body
  • Neurologic: Syringomyelia is a rare disorder in which a fluid-filled cyst forms within the spinal cord. This cyst can grow outwards, compressing and damaging the nerves of the spinal cord and resulting in pain, weakness, and numbness. Often the loss of sensation and numbness is described as being in a “cape” distribution (over the tops of the shoulders and into the hands and arms).


Inflammatory conditions are those that cause the body to mount a response that involves chemicals and proteins meant to fight foreign attack. When bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat, or any other cause injures tissues, the body tries to fight off the insult with inflammation.

  • Autoimmune: Many inflammatory diseases that result in the body attacking itself can also affect the nerves and cause injury that result in peripheral neuropathy. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis and lupus are examples of such autoimmune diseases. These conditions often cause unilateral symptoms but can sometimes result in bilateral symptoms.
  • Vascular: Conditions in which the arteries in the fingers narrow in response to triggers or plaque buildup and formation can decrease the amount of oxygen to the body. This narrowing prevents blood from circulating properly to the extremities, which can result in bilateral peripheral neuropathy and loss of sensation.


Environmental causes can include overconsumption and/or deficiencies of essential nutrients as well as other toxins that can affect nerve growth and development.

  • Toxins: Toxins that cause injury to the nerves include heavy metals such as lead and substances such as alcohol. Too much exposure to either can cause nerve damage that leads to peripheral neuropathy.
  • Vitamin imbalance: There are certain vitamins that are essential to healthy nerve function such as vitamins E and B12. Deficiencies in these vitamins over time can lead to nerve damage and injury. Conversely, exposure to too much Vitamin B6 can cause peripheral neuropathy.
  • Medications: Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause polyneuropathy in about 30 to 40 percent of users. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy may continue long after stopping chemotherapy [1].

Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy Symptom Checker

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Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy


Usually, treating peripheral neuropathy focuses on treating the underlying cause to alleviate symptoms. However, since there is no obvious underlying cause, treating chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy focuses on controlling associated pain, numbness or other symptoms.

  • Medications to relax blood vessels: There are many different kinds of medication that can combat constriction in your blood vessels by dilating (relaxing) them and promoting circulation.
  • Anticonvulsants: Do not be alarmed - your peripheral neuropathy is most likely not the result of seizures. Many anticonvulsant medications are also used to combat chronic pain caused by damaged nerves.
  • Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain medications such as Advil and Aleve can go a long way in helping relieve pain. Topical pain medications such as lidocaine and capsaicin can be helpful for small, painful areas.


Since the etiology of chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy is unknown, prevention is also difficult. Nevertheless, it is still important to take preventative measures against known causes of peripheral neuropathy.

  • Balanced diet rich in essential vitamins to keep the nerves healthy: Fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean proteins can provide your body with the nutrients necessary to maintain healthy, functioning nerves.
  • Regular exercise: Maintaining an optimal weight with exercise as well as a balanced diet can prevent and control metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
  • Decrease medication use: If you have peripheral neuropathy, ask your doctor to minimize the use of medications known to worsen neuropathy or if alternative medications are possible to use.

When to Seek Further Consultation for Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy

If you experience any symptoms of speech difficulty, facial drooping, or weakness to the point you cannot raise your hand or arm call 911 immediately. These could be signs of a stroke.