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 levels of blood glucose and 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 crashes, 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:


Making a diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy is the first step in managing its symptoms. An accurate diagnosis is key to forming your treatment plan and having the best outcomes possible.

Northwestern Medicine physicians have extensive experience in the diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy. Northwestern Memorial Hospital confirms more diagnoses via electromyogram (EMG), the gold standard for peripheral neuropathy, than any other hospital in Illinois.

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

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

Diagnostic Tests

  • Blood Tests
  • Nerve tests, such as EMG and nerve conduction velocity studies
  • Skin Biopsy