What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a set of symptoms caused from damage to the nerves further away from the brain and spinal cord. These distant nerves are called peripheral nerves. They carry sensations (feeling) to the brain and control the movement of our arms and legs. They also control the bladder and bowel, though these nerves are affected by CIPN less often.  Certain chemotherapy drugs are often linked to this side effect.

The symptoms or signs of CIPN depend mostly on which nerves are involved. This side effect can cause numbness, tingling, burning or weakness, particularly in the hands or feet.

Protection and Safety Tips:

  • Protect areas where sensation is decreased. For example, do not walk around without foot wear. Wear thick socks and soft-soled shoes.
  • Wear warm clothing in cold weather.  Protect feet and hands from extreme cold.
  • Use potholders when cooking.
  • Use gloves when washing dishes – or gardening.
  • Inspect skin for cuts, abrasions – and burns daily – especially arms, legs, toes and fingers.
  • Use your pain medicines if you have them.
  • Be sure that you have ways to support yourself if you have problems with stumbling and walking. Hand rails in hallways and bathrooms may help you keep your balance. A walker or cane may give you extra support.
  • Use night lights or flashlights when getting up in the dark.
  • Protect yourself from heat injuries. Set hot water heaters between 105° – 120° degrees to reduce scalding risk while washing your hands.  When taking a bath or shower, do not let the water get too hot.
  • Give yourself extra time to do things. Ask friends for help with tasks you find hard to do.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. It can cause nerve damage on its own, and may make CIPN worse.
  •  If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar. High blood sugar levels can damage nerves.
  • If your neuropathy is permanent, ask your doctor to refer you to an occupational therapist. They are experts who help people lead more normal lives despite physical limits.
  • Report any unusual feeling you may have to your doctor.

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