Answered: What are the different types of neuropathy?

women poking her finger with a type of neuropathy

Neuropathy refers to nerve damage that can affect various parts of the body. There are over 100 types of peripheral neuropathy, each with its symptoms and outcomes. Neuropathy is mainly categorized as mononeuropathy or polyneuropathy, affecting either a single nerve or multiple nerves.

Diabetic neuropathy is the most common form caused by high blood sugar levels damaging nerves in the legs and feet. Other causes include infections, autoimmune disorders, alcohol overuse, and trauma.

The four main types of neuropathy are peripheral, proximal, focal, and autonomic.

Depending on which nerves are damaged, symptoms range from tingling and numbness to pain and muscle weakness. Diagnosing neuropathy involves tests like blood work, electromyography (EMG), nerve imaging, and neurological evaluations.

Doctors treat it based on its type; treatments might include medications like pregabalin for diabetic neuropathy, vitamins for deficiencies causing nerve issues, and surgery to repair damaged or trapped nerves needing relief.

Lifestyle changes also help in managing symptoms effectively.

woman sitting in char with her leg raised holding her foot from neuropathy pain

What Is Neuropathy?

Neuropathy refers to damage or disease affecting the nerves, which can cause weakness, numbness, and pain. It often impacts the peripheral nervous system, including sensory and motor nerves.


Peripheral neuropathy is any condition affecting the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. These nerves carry messages back and forth between your brain, spinal cord, and the rest of your body.

When these pathways are damaged, it can result in nerve pain or numbness.

Diabetic neuropathy is a common type caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the nerve fibers. Peripheral neuropathy can also be triggered by alcohol overuse or chemotherapy treatments.

Another form called mononeuropathy impacts just one nerve, while multiple neuropathies affect several nerves in different areas.

Peripheral neuropathy can significantly impact daily life through muscle weakness and painful cramps.

Dr. Evan Norum, Certified Neuropathy Specialist: “Understanding the specific type of neuropathy a patient has is crucial for tailoring the most effective treatment plan and improving their quality of life.”

Types (peripheral, proximal, focal, autonomic)

Neuropathy can affect various parts of the nervous system. Understanding the different types helps identify symptoms and treatment options.

  1. Peripheral Neuropathy
    • Affects nerves outside the brain and spinal cord.
    • It commonly impacts hands, feet, and legs.
    • Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and sensitivity to touch.
    • It can result from diabetes, infections, or vitamin deficiencies.
  2. Proximal Neuropathy
    • Primarily targets nerves in the thighs, hips, buttocks, or legs.
    • Often causes sudden pain or weakness in these areas.
    • It is more prevalent in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
    • This can lead to needing assistance to stand up.
  3. Focal Neuropathy
    • Localized damage to a single nerve or group of nerves.
    • It often affects specific areas such as the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome) or face (cranial neuropathy).
    • Symptoms might appear suddenly and involve intense pain.
    • People with diabetes are more susceptible to developing this type.
  4. Autonomic Neuropathy
    • It involves damage to autonomic nerves that control involuntary functions.
    • It impacts heart rate, digestive system, and blood pressure regulation.
    • Symptoms include dizziness upon standing, abnormal sweating patterns, and digestive issues.
    • Conditions such as diabetes and autoimmune diseases increase risk.

Each type has unique characteristics, requiring different diagnostic exams, such as electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies, and skin biopsies, for accurate identification.

person with peripheral neuropathy symptoms holding foot.

Symptoms and Causes

Neuropathy often presents sensations like tingling, numbness, and sharp pain in affected areas. Conditions such as diabetes and infections can lead to nerve damage.

Dr. Taylor Moore, Doctorate in Neuropathy: “Early diagnosis and intervention can significantly mitigate the impact of neuropathy, preventing further nerve damage and alleviating symptoms.”

Signs and symptoms

Peripheral neuropathy often starts with a gradual onset of numbness, prickling, or tingling in the feet or hands. Individuals may experience sharp, jabbing, throbbing, or burning pain that can become severe.

Muscle weakness and even paralysis are common as nerve deterioration progresses.

Other symptoms of motor neuropathy include painful cramps and uncontrolled muscle twitches. Sensory issues like increased sensitivity to touch and pressure can occur alongside numbness.

Neuropathy sometimes causes a loss of coordination and balance difficulties because of affected nerves in different body parts.

Possible causes (diabetes, hereditary conditions, tumors)

Neuropathy can result from various causes. Understanding these can help manage and prevent the condition.

  1. Diabetes
    • High blood sugar levels from diabetes can damage nerves throughout the body. This often leads to diabetic neuropathy.
    • Symptoms may include tingling, numbness, or pain in the feet and hands.
    • Maintaining controlled blood glucose levels is crucial for managing this type of neuropathy.
  2. Hereditary Conditions
    • Genetic disorders like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease lead to nerve damage that is inherited.
    • This condition affects motor and sensory nerves, causing muscle weakness and loss of coordination.
    • Family history plays a vital role in identifying these hereditary conditions early.
  3. Tumors
    • Cancerous growths or benign tumors can press on nerves, leading to neuropathic symptoms.
    • Tumors such as those in paraneoplastic syndrome create further complications by affecting the immune system.
    • Treatment often involves addressing the underlying tumor through surgery or other medical interventions.

Understanding these causes allows for better diagnosis and management of neuropathy.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Doctors use various exams and tests to diagnose neuropathy. Treatment options may include pain medications, physical therapy, or nerve stimulation techniques.

Blood test for neuropathy

Exams and tests

Diagnosing neuropathy involves several exams and tests to identify the condition’s source and severity. These tests help doctors understand the cause of your symptoms and plan the best treatment.

  1. Blood Tests
    • Check levels of vitamin B12, blood sugar, and other key markers.
    • Detect conditions like diabetes or anemia that could cause nerve damage.
  2. Electromyography (EMG)
    • Measures electrical activity in muscles.
    • It helps determine if muscle weakness is due to nerve dysfunction or another issue.
  3. Nerve Conduction Study
    • Evaluates how fast electrical signals move through nerves.
    • Identifies damaged peripheral nerves and pinpoints specific areas affected.
  4. Genetic Testing
    • Screens for hereditary conditions causing neuropathy.
    • It is helpful if you have a family history of similar symptoms.
  5. CSF Examination
    • Analyzes cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for infections or inflammatory diseases.
    • It can help diagnose conditions like Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
  6. Imaging Tests
    • Includes MRI and computed tomography (CT) scans.
    • Detects tumors, herniated disks, or other abnormalities pressing on nerves.
  7. Nerve Biopsy
    • It involves taking a small sample of a nerve for lab analysis.
    • Identifies types of nerve damage not visible with other tests.
  8. Skin Biopsy
    • Removes a tiny piece of skin to study nerve fiber density and damage.
    • It helps diagnose small fiber neuropathy, which is often missed in other tests.
  9. Neurological Exam
    • Assesses reflexes, muscle strength, coordination, and sensation.
    • Simple yet crucial for preliminary diagnosis before advanced testing.

NYU Langone neurologists use these tools extensively to effectively uncover the roots of peripheral neuropathies.

Treatment options

The treatment options for neuropathy vary based on the type and severity of the condition. Medications like pregabalin and gabapentin are often recommended, especially for diabetic neuropathy.

These drugs help manage nerve pain effectively. General painkillers can also relieve symptoms, but relying on opioids long-term can cause addiction and other side effects.

Surgery may sometimes be necessary to reconnect damaged nerves or release trapped ones. For peripheral neuropathy caused by vitamin deficiencies, vitamin therapy combined with a balanced diet can reverse the damage.

Membrane stabilizers and certain anti-epileptics have proven effective in treating painful peripheral neuropathies, too.

neuropathy prevention and activities to avoid such as eating saturated fats.

Prevention and Prognosis

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help prevent neuropathy. Early diagnosis and treatment improve the prognosis for patients with different types of neuropathy.

Dr. Evan Norum, Certified Neuropathy Specialist: “Managing underlying conditions such as diabetes and making lifestyle changes are key steps in preventing and controlling the progression of neuropathy.”

Tips for preventing neuropathy

Neuropathy can be managed and sometimes prevented with lifestyle changes. Here are some practical tips to help prevent neuropathy:

  1. Stay Physically Active: Regularly exercise, such as walking or swimming, to improve circulation and nerve health.
  2. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a common cause of neuropathy.
  3. Manage Your Diet: Eat a balanced diet of vitamins and minerals to support nerve health and overall well-being.
  4. Avoid Alcohol and Smoking: These substances can damage nerves, so it’s crucial to avoid them to prevent neuropathy.
  5. Wear Well-Fitted Shoes and Socks. Proper footwear protects your feet from injury and reduces the risk of nerve damage.
  6. Use Warm Water for Foot Care: Wash your feet with warm water, not hot, to avoid burns, which can lead to nerve problems.
  7. Exercise Regularly: Activities such as yoga or cycling strengthen muscles around nerves, helping pain management and prevention.
  8. Quit Smoking: Smoking restricts blood flow to your extremities, leading to a higher risk of nerve damage.
  9. Avoid Toxins: Avoid chemicals that could harm your nerves, including specific cleaning agents and pesticides.
  10. Consume Nutrient-Rich Foods: Include foods high in B vitamins as they are essential for nerve function.

These steps will contribute significantly towards preventing or delaying the onset of neuropathy while improving overall health.

Prognosis for different types of neuropathy

The prognosis for different types of neuropathy can vary significantly depending on several factors.

Type of NeuropathyPrognosis
Peripheral NeuropathyDepends on the specific type and underlying cause. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the outcome.
Autonomic NeuropathyOften has a variable prognosis. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and underlying conditions like diabetes.
Proximal NeuropathyCan improve over time with treatment. Diabetes management is crucial for a better outcome.
Focal NeuropathyGenerally, it has a good prognosis. Symptoms often improve with targeted therapies and treatments.
Sensory NeuropathyIt may have a more favorable prognosis, primarily if caused by segmental demyelination. Early intervention is critical.


Neuropathy affects various parts of the nervous system, leading to different types and symptoms. Understanding peripheral, proximal, focal, or autonomic neuropathy is vital.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms effectively. Taking steps to prevent nerve damage may improve the quality of life for many patients.


1. What is neuropathy?

Neuropathy refers to damage to the nerves that can cause pain, weakness, and numbness.

2. What are common types of neuropathy?

Common types include diabetic neuropathy, alcoholic neuropathy, and post-herpetic neuralgia.

3. How does chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) affect the body?

CIDP causes inflammation in nerve cells, leading to muscle weakness and lack of coordination.

4. Can medical conditions like cancer cause neuropathic pain?

Yes, cancers can lead to nerve compression or entrapment, causing severe pain.

5. What treatments help with nerve pain relief?

Treatments include antidepressants, lidocaine patches, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and plasmapheresis.

6. Are there tests for diagnosing different types of neuropathy?

Yes! Doctors use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other tests based on your medical history to diagnose it accurately.

doctor evan norum

About the Author

Dr. Evan Norum, co-owner of Advantage Chiropractic in New Berlin, WI, holds a Doctorate of Chiropractic from Northwestern Health Sciences University. Inspired by personal experiences with chiropractic care, he specializes in family-based treatments and is board-certified in chiropractic care, neuropathy, and the Torque Release Technique®. With internships at leading chiropractic centers and co-founding Advantage Chiropractic in 2017, Dr. Evan Norum is dedicated to promoting health from within.