Sensory Symptoms Most Common. (And Some Say Worst.)
Sensory symptoms of peripheral neuropathy impact sensation, including the most common complaints like pain, burning, numbness and tingling.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are typically determined by what type of nerve is being targeted. There are three main types of nerves in your body — sensory, motor, and autonomic, each one being relatively self-explanatory.
- Sensory nerves are in charge of relaying sensory information from your body extremities to your brain and spine.
- Motor nerves are in charge of sending signals out from the brain and spine, telling your body when to contract its muscles and move around.
- Autonomic nerves are basically in charge of everything else that your body does. Things like your heart rate, blood pressure, gastrointestinal muscles, and other bodily functions that you don’t consciously think about are the domain of your autonomic nerves.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are going to present themselves differently depending on which type of nerve is being impacted. Similarly, thick nerve fibers and thin nerve fibers sometimes display different symptoms as well.
Sensory Symptoms: Positive Feedback vs. Negative Feedback
Damage to sensory nerves, understandably enough, leads to what are called sensory symptoms. They’re among the most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, and they also tend to be the first symptoms to become noticeable.
For the most part, your sensory nerves are among the thinnest nerves in your body, so they have a tendency to be much more vulnerable to damage.
Your sensory nerves also come with the most directly bothersome consequences when they do become damaged.
For the sake of simplicity, sensory neuropathy symptoms tend to get grouped into two main categories. Each one depends upon the thickness of the nerve being damaged, as differently-sized nerve fibers respond to the damage of peripheral neuropathy in different ways.
Smaller sensory nerve fibers will exhibit what is known as positive sensory symptoms. This essentially means that your body is providing you with an active response to the damage that is afflicting your nerve endings. When smaller nerve fibers degenerate, they respond by overacting and firing off in ways that they’re not supposed to.
This can cause a wide range of sensations.
Sometimes misfiring nerves respond entirely too much to what might be a relatively normal amount of stimulation (socks and shoes, bedsheets, and so forth). Other times, positive sensory systems can involve your nerves responding when there isn’t actually any stimulation at all, firing off for no reason whatsoever.
Your larger sensory nerve fibers actually respond to the damage inflicted by peripheral neuropathy in a vastly different way from their thinner counterparts. Instead of over-reacting and firing off when they shouldn’t be, large nerve fibers respond to damage by simply shutting down altogether.
They display what are known as negative symptoms. This means that your sensory nerves are either reporting less information than they should be…or not reporting any information at all.
Both are quite dangerous, and we’ll talk about why.
Types of Sensory Symptoms
Confusing as sensory symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may seem, they neatly break down into three categories.
You probably know this word already, and it’s not too different here from how it’s normally used in a medical context. Anaesthesia refers to a complete lack of feeling, meaning that your nerves aren’t reporting any information back to your central nervous system.
This can be dangerous for a number of different ways, mostly because your sensory nerves are your body’s “warning light.” When something is wrong with it, you can wind up missing important messages your body is trying to send you. A cut on your foot, for example, can go unnoticed and lead to serious infection.
Your small nerve fibers respond to peripheral neuropathy in what we’ll call a much more active way than the large nerve fibers do. Their positive symptom response pattern means they like to send you a bunch of information that isn’t really meant to be sent in the first place, and the results can be pretty irritating.
Specifically, paresthesia refers to what is also known as phantom sensations — feelings aren’t actually caused by any real stimulation or input. This can take many forms. The most common are buzzing, pins and needles, tingling, strange vibrations, and other bizarre feelings.
While the pain caused by paresthesia is not always debilitatingly high, it can highl impact lives in — mostly by interrupting sleep patterns and causing anxiety through constant irritation.
Finally, dysesthesia describes another common symptom of sensory neuropathy in which your nerves are overreacting to what would normally be a completely acceptable level of stimulation.
Individuals with peripheral neuropathy often wind up having to make special considerations in their lives for symptoms related to dysesthesia, as your overactive nerves can turn even everyday activities into severe pain. Socks and shoes can become unbearable, and the feeling of bed sheets on toes can become thunderously irritating, for example.