Numbness in fingers and foot may be due to damaged peripheral nerves

Q. I am 68 and have numbness on the fingers of both my hands as well as on the sole of my right foot, near the toes.

This has been going on for about 18 months and the doctor at the polyclinic I went to gave me B-complex tablets.

I have been taking these tablets but there has been no improvement.

What should I do?

A. You sound like you may be afflicted with a condition called peripheral polyneuropathy.

It arises from damage to the peripheral nervous system - as opposed to the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and the spinal cord.

Peripheral nerves are those that are outside of the brain and spinal cord. Their main function is to link the limbs and the organs to the central nervous system.

That is why the condition can affect the nerves in the hands and legs, resulting in numbness.

This may progress to affect more areas of the body and can cause muscle weakness when it turns serious.

For example, a person may find it difficult to walk or grasp things.

In your case, multiple nerves of the limbs appear to be affected (polyneuropathy).

You need to get your condition assessed by a specialist. This may involve additional tests, such as the electromyography test.

This technique evaluates and records the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles, which helps doctors to determine if the nerves are functioning properly.

As time goes by, a person with peripheral polyneuropathy may suffer from more and more numbness and weakness, which can be permanent.

Diseases such as diabetes can trigger the condition. This is because the nerve tissues can be sensitive to metabolic imbalances in the body - in the case of diabetes, this would be the abnormal levels of blood glucose.

Arthritis, which involves inflammation of the joints, is another factor that can lead to nerve damage.

Exposure to toxins and some drugs may also contribute to the risk of peripheral polyneuropathy.

Treatment depends on the type of neuropathy a person is afflicted with. Medication may be given, for example, to control the pain.

Otherwise, patients whose condition is linked to diabetes may benefit from better management of the chronic problem.

Consultant neurologist at Siow Neurology, Headache and Pain Centre at Mount Alvernia Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre and Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre

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