Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Peripheral Neuropathy

Neuropathies are either inherited at birth or acquired later in life. Some neuropathies begin suddenly, while others take years to develop.


The most common systemic cause behind peripheral neuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, which can cause chronically high blood glucose levels that damage nerves. Although doctors are sometimes unable to pinpoint the exact cause of an acquired neuropathy, there are many known causes, including:

  • Systematic diseases: Including kidney disorders, liver diseases, hypothyroidism, exposure to toxins, cancers and tumors, and blood diseases
  • Alcoholism
  • Physical trauma: Including motor vehicle accidents, falls, and sports injuries.
  • Infectious diseases: Including HIV, shingles, Epstein-Barr virus, Lyme disease, diphtheria and leprosy
  • Autoimmune disorders: Including multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, lupus and Sjogren syndrome.

Two hereditary neuropathies are:

  • Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease (CMT)
  • Hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsies (HNPP)


Diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy is the first step is managing symptoms. A diagnosis may impact your treatment plan, so an accurate diagnosis is key to having the best outcomes possible.

Northwestern Medicine physicians have extensive experience in the diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy. Northwestern Memorial Hospital performs the most electromyography (EMG) diagnoses in Illinois. EMG offers the gold standard of diagnosis for peripheral neuropathy.

The following procedures may be used in the diagnosis of neuropathy:

  • Nerve tests, such as nerve conduction velocity studies (NCV) and EMG
  • Blood tests to determine the cause of neuropathy

Diagnostic Tests