According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy have been identified. When the cause is unknown, it is referred to as idiopathic neuropathy; about 23% of cases are classified as such.
Examples of common causes of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Trauma – Physical injury to nerves is the most common cause of neuropathy. In addition to acute nerve injury resulting from falls, motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, or surgery, peripheral neuropathy may be the result of repetitive stress or any condition that traps, compresses, or damages a nerve (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome).
- Diabetes – 60% to 70% of people with diabetes will develop some form of nerve damage, a condition called diabetic neuropathy.
- Medications, especially certain chemotherapy agents, but also some antiretroviral agents used to treat HIV infection, anticonvulsant drugs, and heart and blood pressure medications, can damage nerves and cause neuropathy.
- Nutritional and vitamin deficiencies – Vitamin B12 deficiency damages the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects nerves. Without this protection, nerves cannot function properly. Other B vitamin deficiencies such as B1, B6, and B3 can cause neuropathy as can vitamin E and niacin deficiencies.
- Alcoholism – Long-term alcohol abuse causes nerve damage that may not be reversible, even if a person stops drinking. People who abuse alcohol may also develop nutritional and dietary deficiencies that can contribute to neuropathy.
Examples of other causes include:
- Kidney, liver and lung disease, or other critical illness
- Hypothyroidism and pituitary disorders
- Autoimmune disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus
- Benign or cancerous tumors that exert pressure on nerves
- A wide range of infections, including herpes simplex virus (HSV), shingles (varicella zoster virus), Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS, cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus, syphilis, leprosy, diphtheria, and parasites
- Exposure to environmental and industrial toxins, such as lead, arsenic, and mercury, some pesticides and industrial solvents