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Handb Clin Neurol. 2016;138:263-82. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-802973-2.00015-X.

Peripheral neuropathies.

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Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus MC University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus MC University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Department of Neurology, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Peripheral neuropathies are diseases of the peripheral nervous system that can be divided into mononeuropathies, multifocal neuropathies, and polyneuropathies. Symptoms usually include numbness and paresthesia. These symptoms are often accompanied by weakness and can be painful. Polyneuropathies can be divided into axonal and demyelinating forms, which is important for diagnostic reasons. Most peripheral neuropathies develop over months or years, but some are rapidly progressive. Some patients only suffer from mild, unilateral, slowly progressive tingling in the fingers due to median nerve compression in the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome), while other patients can be tetraplegic, with respiratory insufficiency within 1-2 days due to Guillain-Barré syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome, with a prevalence of 5% and incidence of 1-2 per 1000 person-years, is the most common mononeuropathy. Population-based data for chronic polyneuropathy are relatively scarce. Prevalence is estimated at 1% and increases to 7% in persons over 65 years of age. Incidence is approximately 1 per 1000 person-years. Immune-mediated polyneuropathies like Guillain-Barré syndrome and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy are rare diseases, with an annual incidence of approximately 1-2 and 0.2-0.5 per 100 000 persons respectively. Most peripheral neuropathies are more prevalent in older adults and in men, except for carpal tunnel syndrome, which is more common in women. Diabetes is a common cause of peripheral neuropathy and is associated with both mono- and polyneuropathies. Among the group of chronic polyneuropathies, in about 20-25% no direct cause can be found. These are slowly progressive axonal polyneuropathies.


Bell’spalsy; Guillain–Barré syndrome; carpal tunnel syndrome; diabetic neuropathy; hereditary neuropathy; idiopathic neuropathy; mononeuropathy; peripheral neuropathy; polyneuropathy; ulnar neuropathy

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