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Did You Know, Peripheral Neuropathy

Types of Peripheral Neuropathy

There are several different kinds of peripheral neuropathies that stem from a variety of causes. They range from carpal tunnel syndrome (a traumatic injury common after chronic repetitive use of the hands and wrists, such as with computer use) to nerve damage linked to diabetes.

As a group, peripheral neuropathies are common, especially among people over the age of 55. All together, the conditions affect 3% to 4% of people in this group.Neuropathies are typically classified according to the problems they cause or what is at the root of the damage. There also are terms that express how extensively the nerves have been damaged.


Damage to a single peripheral nerve is called mononeuropathy. Physical injury or trauma such as from an accident is the most common cause. Prolonged pressure on a nerve, caused by extended periods of being sedentary (such as sitting in a wheelchair or lying in bed), or continuous, repetitive motions, can trigger a mononeuropathy.

The damage to the nerve can result in numbness, tingling, unusual sensations, and pain in the first three fingers on the thumb side of the hand. The person may awaken at night with numbness in their hand or discover that when they perform activities like using a hair dryer, the numbness is more noticeable. In time, carpal tunnel injuries can weaken the muscles in the hand. You may also feel pain, tingling, or burning in your arm and shoulder.

Here are examples of other mononeuropathies that can cause weakness in the affected parts of the body, such as hands and feet:

  • Ulnar nerve palsy occurs when the nerve that passes close to the surface of the skin at the elbow is damaged. The numbness is noted in the 4th and 5th digit of the hand.
  • Radial nerve palsy is caused by injury to the nerve that runs along the underside of the upper arm and can occur with fractures of the humerus bone in the upper part of the arm.
  • Peroneal nerve palsy results when the nerve at the top of the calf on the outside of the knee is compressed. This leads to a condition called “foot drop,” in which it becomes difficult to lift the foot.

Neuropathy can affect nerves that control muscle movement (motor nerves) and those that detect sensations such as coldness or pain (sensory nerves). In some cases, it can affect internal organs, such as the heart, blood vessels, bladder, or intestines. Neuropathy that affects internal organs is called an autonomic neuropathy. This rare condition can cause low blood pressure or problems with sweating.



Polyneuropathy accounts for the greatest number of peripheral neuropathy cases. It occurs when multiple peripheral nerves throughout the body malfunction at the same time. Polyneuropathy can have a wide variety of causes, including exposure to certain toxins such as with alcohol abuse, poor nutrition (particularly vitamin B deficiency), and complications from diseases such as cancer or kidney failure.

One of the most common forms of chronic polyneuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, a condition that occurs in people with diabetes. It is more severe in people with poorly controlled blood sugar levels. Though less common, diabetes can also cause a mononeuropathy.

The most common symptoms of polyneuropathy are:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Loss of sensation in the arms and legs
  • A burning sensation in the feet or hands

Because people with chronic polyneuropathy often lose their ability to sense temperature and pain, they can burn themselves and develop open sores as the result of injury or prolonged pressure. If the nerves serving the organs are involved, diarrhea or constipation may result, as well as loss of bowel or bladder control. Sexual dysfunction and abnormally low blood pressure also can occur.

One of the most serious polyneuropathies is Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that strikes suddenly when the body’s immune system attacks nerves in the body just as they leave the spinal cord. Symptoms tend to appear quickly and worsen rapidly, sometimes leading to paralysis. Early symptoms include weakness and tingling that eventually may spread upward into the arms. Blood pressure problems, heart rhythm problems, and breathing difficulty may occur in the more severe cases. However, despite the severity of the disease, recovery rates are good when patients receive treatment early.

Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy is a chronic form of Guillian-Barre where the symptoms continue for months and even years. Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial for CIDP patients, 30% of which risk eventually being confined to a wheelchair.

What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?

There are many factors that can cause peripheral neuropathies, so it is often difficult to pinpoint the origin. Neuropathies occur by one of three methods:

  • Acquired neuropathies are caused by environmental factors such as toxins, trauma, illness, or infection. Known causes of acquired neuropathies include:
  • Diabetes
  • Several rare inherited diseases
  • Alcoholism
  • Poor nutrition or vitamin deficiency
  • Certain kinds of cancer and chemotherapy used to treat them
  • Conditions where nerves are mistakenly attacked by the body’s own immune system or damaged by an overaggressive response to injury
  • Certain medications
  • Kidney or thyroid disease
  • Infections such as Lyme disease, shingles, or AIDS
  • Hereditary neuropathies are not as common. Hereditary neuropathies are diseases of the peripheral nerves that are genetically passed from parent to child. The most common of these is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1. It is characterized by weakness in the legs and, to a lesser degree, the arms — symptoms that usually appear between mid-childhood and age 30. This disease is caused by degeneration of the insulation that normally surrounds the nerves and helps them conduct the electrical impulses needed for them to trigger muscle movement.
  • Idiopathic neuropathies are from an unknown cause. As many as one-third of all neuropathies are classified in this way.



12 Feet Deep
The American thriller film features twin sisters who are trapped in a swimming pool under a fiberglass pool cover. One of the sisters has diabetes and needs an insulin shot to avoid slipping into a coma.

150 Milligrams

The French drama film is based on the real-life French pulmonologist Irène Frachon who fought between 2009 and 2011 to reveal that a diabetes drug was life-threatening.

A documentary film about Alma Thorpe, whose primary condition is schizophrenia, but she also has diabetes.[6]

The Ambulance
A rogue doctor in an ambulance kidnaps people with diabetes for his experiment.[7]

The Baby-Sitters Club
A teenage girl deals with managing her type 1 diabetes.[8]

Beats, Rhymes & Life
A documentary film about the band A Tribe Called Quest, including Phife Dawg, who has diabetes.[6]

Big Nothing
In the black comedy film, criminals kill an FBI agent with diabetes by force-feeding him a lollipop.[9]

Loose Cannons / Mine vaganti
Side character, grandmother, commits suicide by eating all the sweets.

Bread and Roses
A married couple has financial difficulties because the husband has diabetes.[10]

Brokedown Palace
The father of one of the wrongfully imprisoned women has diabetes.[11]

The coming-of-age film stars an 11-year-old child who is learning to manage diabetes.[12]

An elderly woman in the film hides her diabetes from her family.[13]

The protagonist’s father has diabetes.[14]

The female pilot of the criminal gang radios for emergency backup, saying that they need insulin for a person with diabetes.[15]

Con Air
The film’s protagonist helps a fellow convict who has diabetes.[9]

The Confessional
A family mystery is investigated, and hereditary diabetes is a clue in establishing a family link.[16]

A Deadly Adoption
In a parody of melodramatic films screened on the TV network Lifetime, two parents see their daughter fall into a diabetic coma.[17]

The daughter of a blackmail victim has diabetes.[11]

Dog Day Afternoon
The manager of the bank at which the robbery takes place has diabetes and is threatened by the hostage taking, as he needs medication.[11]

Fed Up
The documentary film highlights that too much sugar in American diets is a strong reason for the prevalence of diabetes mellitus type 2 in the United States.[18]

The Founder
In the biographical film about the creator of the McDonald’s fast food chain, one of the McDonald brothers is hospitalized due to a stress-induced diabetes shock, and founder-to-be Ray Kroc visits him in the hospital to offer to buy out the brothers’ restaurant.[19]

The General
The titular Irish crime boss Martin Cahill develops Type 2 diabetes.[20]

A character with diabetes is helped by another character.[21]

The Godfather Part III
The film’s crime boss, Michael Corleone, suffers symptoms of diabetes.[6]

When a woman’s father is hospitalized due to diabetic complications, she meets a man with whom she falls in love.[22] ]

Half Baked

The stoner comedy film features a horse with diabetes.[6]

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
As a result of consuming too much candy in Hansel and Gretel, Hansel contracts diabetes and must periodically inject insulin.[23]

It Runs in the Family
The protagonist’s wife suffers from complications from diabetes and is on dialysis due to kidney failure.[10]

Jerry and Tom
The film’s hitman suffers from diabetes.[20]

Just Before Dawn
A criminal psychologist is tricked into injecting a person with diabetes with poison instead of the insulin needed.[24]

Mad Money
One of the bank robbers has diabetes.[11]

Meeting Daddy
The colonel in the film has diabetes and uses a glucometer to monitor himself.[21]

In a side plot, a man with amnesia treats his wife with diabetes.[6]

The Next Three Days
A husband attempts an escape plan for his wrongfully imprisoned wife, who has diabetes.[10]

No Good Deed
The film’s police officer is shown performing a self-maintenance routine for diabetes.[11]

Nothing in Common
The protagonist’s parents divorce, and he learns that his father has diabetes and has been avoiding treatment.[25]

Over the Brooklyn Bridge
The lead character Alby (played by Elliott Gould) has diabetes.[26]

Panic Room
A young girl with diabetes and her mother are trapped in a safe room during a home invasion.[11]

Patch Adams
The comedy-drama film, based on Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, depicts a scene in which medical residents scrutinize a patient with diabetes, and Adams, unlike the others, asks for the patient’s name.[27]

The Planet of Junior Brown
A character with diabetes is helped by another character.[21]

Promised a Miracle
The American television film dramatizes the true story of Christian parents who believed their 11-year-old son’s diabetes were healed by God and discarded his insulin, resulting in their son’s death.[28]

Regarding Henry
The film’s attorney, recovering from a shooting, meets an elderly man with diabetes.[20]

Reversal of Fortune
A husband defends against charges that he killed his wife who had diabetes.[29]

The Right Hand Man
Based on the historical novel The Right-Hand Man, the film is set in Australia in 1860 and features a protagonist with diabetes.[30]

S/O Satyamurthy
A man meets a woman with diabetes and develops a relationship with her.[31]

Scarecrow Gone Wild
A college-age man suffers a diabetic shock as a result of a prank but is resurrected as a killer scarecrow.[6]

Soul Food
A matriarch’s refusal to address her diabetes leads to her death and her family falling apart.[14]

An alien seductress rejects and kills a candidate mate because he has diabetes.[6]

One of the multiple personalities played by James McAvoy has diabetes and is shown injecting insulin, while none of the other personalities has diabetes.[32][33][34]

State of Emergency
In the horror film, survivors of a zombie outbreak hide in a warehouse. One of the survivors hides her diabetes from the others, but when she falls into a coma, another survivor goes out to find insulin for her.[35]

Steel Magnolias
A recent bride has to deal with diabetes.[36]

The protagonist’s grandmother has diabetes but refuses to medicate.[37]

That’s My Boy
The comedy film features the relationship between a father and his son. In the son’s childhood, he is obese and has diabetes due to his father’s lack of care.[38]

This Old Cub
A documentary film about baseball player Ron Santo, who has diabetes.[20]

To Kill a Man
A caretaker of a forest preserve has diabetes; when his medicine is stolen, his son’s attempt to recover the medicine leads to the family being terrorized by the criminal gang.[39]

A witch hunter enlists a sidekick who has diabetes.[7]

The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time!
The documentary film shows the band The Weavers, including bass vocalist Lee Hays, who had diabetes.[6]

What the Health
The documentary film explores health risks associated with the meat industry and says that several studies show that meat consumption is a leading cause of diabetes.[40]

Who Killed Mary What’s ‘Her Name?
The film amateur sleuth has diabetes and is helped by another character.[21]

The Witches
The young protagonist’s grandmother has diabetes.[10]

Wonderful World
The protagonist’s roommate is hospitalized for treatment of a coma due to diabetes. The protagonist falls in love with his roommate’s sister, who comes to visit.[41]