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Anxiety and Peripheral Neuropathy

Sally-Anne Soameson, Psychiatrist
Anxiety and Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy literally translates as peripheral nerve pain.. It's generally caused by something that damages the nerves directly, and leads to changes of functioning in some parts of the body that can cause symptoms that may be extremely distressing.

Many people with anxiety believe they have developed peripheral neuropathy, and some even believe that anxiety can cause it. But does anxiety cause peripheral neuropathy, and how can you reduce the sensations?

Types of Anxiety and Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy has a lot of different types of symptoms. Some of the most common include:

Cramping, pain, and heaviness may also occur. But each one depends on the location of the nerves, the type of damage, and so on.

Anxiety doesn't actually create peripheral neuropathy. While anxiety and stress have been thrown around as possible issues that lead to neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy is about nerve damage, not nerve symptoms, and since anxiety is unlikely to cause nerve damage, it can't technically be peripheral neuropathy.

But anxiety can cause symptoms that resemble this type of disorder. Anxiety very commonly causes tingling, numbness, burning, or movement issues in various areas of the body, and when it does it can be very scary. Those that selfdiagnose often come up with health reasons that cause these symptoms, but they may be caused by anxiety.

How Peripheral Neuropathy is Diagnosed

If you are concerned that your symptoms are the result of a physical medical issue rather than anxiety you may want to undergo some diagnostic tests that can be ordered by your doctor. These will test your nerve function and health which will be able to show if you have true organic disease or if your symptoms are the result of hyperventilation and stress.

Electromyography

This test uses two fine needles to send electricity through your muscles. Any change in the signal could mean that there is underlying disease affecting your nerves.

Biopsy

A small sample of your muscle is taken using a needle and looked at under a microscope in a lab. Different types of nerve cell damage can be seen if your symptoms are not the result of anxiety.

Scans

MRI and CT scans can show pressure points where nerves have been crushed by bone, usually around your spine. Treatment for this can range from physiotherapy to surgery and treatment of any anxiety will not cure the symptoms.

How Anxiety Causes Similar Symptoms

Anxiety causes several issues that may lead to the development of these types of symptoms. Just a small sample includes:

All of these are very similar symptoms to what people experience when they have peripheral neuropathy, which is why it's so easy to self-diagnose peripheral neuropathy when in reality you just have anxiety.

How to Overcome Neuropathy-Like Symptoms

Reducing these types of issues that can lead to peripheral neuropathy-like symptoms can be tough. Ideally you need to combat your anxiety altogether. But in the meantime, consider the following:

But of course, these are only the beginning, and aren't going to cure your anxiety. These will simply decrease the severity of what you experience, so that hopefully you can reduce some of your peripheral neuropathy like symptoms.

Article Resources
  1. Ames, Frances. The hyperventilation syndrome. The British Journal of Psychiatry 101.424 (1955): 466-525.
  2. Thompson, William Paul. The electrocardiogram in the hyperventilation syndrome. American Heart Journal 25.3 (1943): 372-390. 
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