Neuropathy is nerve damage that affects the peripheral nerves and can have many different causes. The most common type of neuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, where high blood sugar causes nerve damage. However, exposure to toxins, drugs (e.g. chemotherapy), alcohol and nutrient deficiencies can all lead to neuropathy.
Overtime neuropathy will worsen and cause more painful symptoms. This is a result of increased damage to sensory nerves. While, the first neuropathy symptoms can range from annoying to uncomfortable, as nerve damage progresses so will the level of pain and discomfort. At this stage, painful neuropathy symptoms can make it difficult to sleep and pain often is more intense at night. For people with diabetic neuropathy, a lack of sleep makes it more difficult to control blood sugar, which results in a cycle of increasing nerve damage.
When neuropathy advances, it is common to have damage to motor nerves - the nerves that control muscles. While damage to these nerves might not cause they same painful symptoms, it can result in muscle weakness, difficulty walking and difficulty performing other daily activities.
At this stage, people with neuropathy might also experience autonomic neuropathy. This is damage to nerves that control vital functions within the body, such as blood pressure, heart rate, bladder function and digestion.
Clinical testing for more advanced neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy typically involves a referral to a neurologist. At this time, you might undergo nerve conduction testing to examine damage to sensory and motor nerves. Autonomic neuropathy can be investigated using measurements of heart rate or sweat/blood flow response in the feet.