Polyneuropathy is when multiple peripheral nerves become damaged, which is also commonly called peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral nerves are the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. They relay information between the central nervous system (CNS), and all other parts of the body. The brain and spinal cord are part of the CNS. Polyneuropathy affects several nerves in different parts of the body at the same time. In cases of mononeuropathy, just one nerve is affected.

Polyneuropathy can affect nerves responsible for feeling (sensory neuropathy), movement (motor neuropathy), or both (sensorimotor neuropathy).

It may also affect the autonomic nerves responsible for controlling functions such as digestion, the bladder, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Although the exact number of people with polyneuropathy is not known, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) estimate that approximately 20 million people in the United States have some form of peripheral neuropathy, and most of them have polyneuropathy.


There are more than 100 types of peripheral neurological nerve pain, and most of these are polyneuropathies.
Each type is classified according to the type of nerve damage, the underlying cause, and the symptoms that it produces.
For example, diabetic neuropathy occurs in people with diabetes, whereas idiopathic neuropathy appears to have no known cause.
There are three main patterns of polyneuropathy:
  • Chronic symmetrical peripheral neuropathy: Most polyneuropathies are chronic and develop over many months.
  • Multiple mononeuropathy: There is damage to at least two separate nerve areas.
  • Acute symmetrical peripheral neuropathy: This is rare. The most common cause is Guillain-Barr syndrome, a condition that can be fatal.
Some neuropathies can take years to develop, but others become severe within hours to days of onset.
A variety of medical conditions and other factors can cause polyneuropathy, including:
  • Diabetes: This can be a significant risk factor, especially if blood glucose levels are poorly controlled. One study of more than 1,400 people with type 2 diabetes found that every fifth person had diabetic neuropathy.
  • Alcohol abuse: Alcohol can damage nerve tissue, and alcohol abuse is often associated with nutritional deficiencies that contribute to neuropathy.
  • Autoimmune conditions: The immune system attacks the body, causing damage to nerves and other areas. Conditions include Sjogrens syndrome, celiac disease, Guillain-Barr syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
  • Bacterial or viral infections: Certain infections can lead to neuropathy, including Lyme disease, shingles, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
  • Bone marrow disorders: Examples of these include abnormal proteins in the blood, some forms of bone cancer, and lymphoma.
  • Exposure to toxins: Toxic neuropathy may be caused by exposure to industrial chemicals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and thallium. Drug or chemical abuse is also a risk factor.
  • Hereditary disorders: Certain conditions, such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, are forms of hereditary neuropathy.
  • Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid may lead to polyneuropathy, although this is uncommon.
  • Kidney disease: Uremic neuropathy is a form of polyneuropathy that affects 20 percent to 50 percent of people with kidney disease, according to the Center for Peripheral Neuropathy.
  • Liver disease: Research indicates that peripheral neuropathy is very common in those with cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Medications: Chemotherapy, along with some drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS, can cause neuropathy.
  • Poor nutrition: Deficiencies of vitamins B-1, B-6, B-12, and E may lead to polyneuropathy, as these are vital for nerve health.
  • Physical trauma or injury: Repetitive motion such as typing, accidents, or other injuries can damage peripheral nerves. Some cases of polyneuropathy have no known cause. These are known as idiopathic neuropathy.

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