My father has been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. He is getting some treatment, but does not like to talk about it openly. My concern is not only for him, but also for myself and the children I want to have one day. Is this an inherited disease?
Yes and no. Peripheral neuropathy is not a single disease but a general term describing a variety of disorders with many causes.
Some kinds of peripheral neuropathy can be inherited, but many are not. If your father continues to feel uncomfortable talking about his condition, call his doctor and explain your concerns. Chances are that his problem is not hereditary, but it makes sense to find out for sure.
Peripheral neuropathy occurs as a result of damage to one or more peripheral nerves, which are all the nerves except those in the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord. The nerves carry messages from the brain to various parts of the body. When they’re damaged, the structures on the receiving end may suffer impaired function.
Symptoms may include pain, muscle weakness, numbness, and burning or tingling sensations, primarily in the arms and legs. Treatment for the condition depends on the cause. The damage isn’t usually reversible and the symptoms are not always well controlled. But in some cases, successfully treating the cause of the neuropathy substantially reduces the symptoms.
Diabetes is probably the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy. In a significant minority of cases, no cause is identified. Alcoholism, some medications, trauma to one or more nerves, nutritional deficiencies, thyroid or kidney diseases and several other illnesses, including AIDS, can all cause peripheral neuropathy. Carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the wrists and hands, is a type of neuropathy caused by compression of a nerve.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is the most common hereditary cause of peripheral neuropathy. It takes two forms — type 1 and type 2. Type 1 usually makes its appearance in childhood, but type 2 may show up later in life. The other possible hereditary cause is a progressive disease called Dejerine-Sottas disease. This almost always starts in childhood.