Western Neuropathy Association

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Causes of Neuropathy

There are more than 150 causes of peripheral neuropathy, with an estimated 10% of the population having symptoms of this disease. Diabetes is the most common cause, yet even that accounts for only about one-third of all cases. In about 30 percent of cases, no specific cause can be identified--this is called idiopathic neuropathy. Here are some of the various causes.


Diabetes is the single leading cause of neuropathy, accounting for about one third of all cases, and is known as diabetic neuropathy. It is estimated that as many as two thirds of those with diabetes will eventually have nerve damage. This is a key factor in the number of amputations due to diabetes (as the patient loses the ability to be aware of damage to the limbs). Given the millions that may have diabetic neuropathy, it is unfortunate that so few know about it.

Other Diseases

Many other diseases may cause neuropathy. These include autoimmune diseases (where the body's own immune system attacks the body) such as lupus, Guillain-Barré syndrome, chronic inflammatory demailination neuropathy, and rheumatoid arthritis, hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism, diseases such as HIV, Lyme Disease, leprosy, and other infections, organ failures, and cancer.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals can lead to neuropathy. Most common are deficiencies of B12 and other B vitamins, including thiamine. Nutritional deficiencies can be a contributor to alcoholic neuropathy. Gluten intolerance (celiac sprue) has been identified as a cause of neuropathy. Too much B6, however, is toxic and may cause neuropathy.

Gastric bypass surgery, an increasing common procedure for the treatment of obesity, can lead to (or complicate) neuropathy, largely due to possible nutritional complications.

Alcohol, Toxins and Drugs

Various toxins, including industrial agents and heavy metals, have been found to cause neuropathy. Alcoholic neuropathy may be caused by the damage from alcohol itself, or from related nutritional deficiencies. Chemotherapy can cause neuropathy. Medications including heart and blood pressure medicines, cholesterol medicines, medications used to fight HIV, cancer, and infections have also been identified as causes for neuropathy.

Heredity and Genetics

Mutations in some genes may be a cause of neuropathy. Genetic neuropathies may show up early in life and progress slowly over time. Heredity can play a part in who develops neuropathy from other causes.

Combining Factors

These causes can work together. For example, genetic disposition may indicate who is susceptible to neuropathy when faced with a certain condition such as diabetes or other disease, or a nutritional deficiency may exacerbate the condition.

For More Information

An excellent resource for learning more about the causes of neuropathy is Dr. Norman Latov's book Peripheral Neuropathy: When the Numbness, Weakness, and Pain Won't Stop. See our links and more page for information on this and other valuable resources.

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