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What is Demyelinating Neuropathy?

Tony Hernandez
Tony Hernandez

Demyelinating neuropathy is disease of the nerves that causes destruction of the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is a layer of fatty tissue that protects the nerves and makes nerve impulses travel quickly and efficiently. Without the myelin sheath, nerve impulses would not be able to reach parts of the body fully intact. This would cause loss of sensation or control of the body part in question. The demyelinated nerves would eventually wither from disuse if the problem is not treated.

The causes of demyelinating neuropathy are largely unknown and not well understood. The condition is thought to be autoimmune. An autoimmune disorder is a condition in which the immune system incorrectly attacks parts of the body as if they were foreign to the body.

Demyelinating neuropathy can cause a loss of reflexes.
Demyelinating neuropathy can cause a loss of reflexes.

Symptoms of demyelinating neuropathy depend on the location of the myelin sheath that is under attack. Numbness, burning and tingling of the hands or feet are among the most common symptoms. Sudden back or neck pain might occur. The sufferer might also experience loss of reflexes or involuntary muscle twitching.

Demyelinating neuropathy can also attack nerves that supply the heart and other involuntary systems. This is called autonomic neuropathy. Besides heart problems, the patient might have trouble with his or her bladder or bowels. Another common symptom is dizziness when changing between lying, sitting and standing positions.

The axons that carry nerve impulses are protected by a myelin sheath.
The axons that carry nerve impulses are protected by a myelin sheath.

Treatments for demyelinating neuropathy concentrate primarily on trying to stop the immune system from attacking the myelin sheath. There is no way to tell the immune system what not to attack, so the immune system has to be suppressed as a whole using drugs called immunosuppressants. Suppression of the immune system is often accompanied by a procedure called plasmapheresis. The blood is taken out of the body in small amounts to remove the immune cells attacking the myelin sheath, and then the healthy blood is put back into the body. The immune suppressants are used to keep the body from producing more of the harmful cells.

Fatigue may be experienced by someone suffering from a demyelinating disease.
Fatigue may be experienced by someone suffering from a demyelinating disease.

Another name for demyelinating neuropathy is chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. Corticosteroids are also effective in treating demyelinating neuropathy because they treat the inflammation associated with the condition. An example of a corticosteroid is prednisolone.

The primary tissue that makes up the myelin sheath is called sphingomyelin or basic myelin protein. Some believe that it is better to treat demyelinating neuropathy by simply replacing the myelin sheath that is being destroyed. This is done by taking a nutritional supplement made of basic myelin protein from animals such as cattle.

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Discussion Comments

anon947276

I have found the above article very informative. I have recently been referred by my GP to The Walton Centre and the consultant after examining me feels that I could have demyelinating neuropathy. She is waiting the results of my blood test. Once they are to hand I will go into Hospital for 5/10 days for nerve testing followed by the procedure called plasmapheresis (changing my blood). While the consultant was very informative your article pointed out quite a few other little side effects such as muscle twitching, dizziness which has help me understand why that has been happening. Thank you for the information --IW

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    • Demyelinating neuropathy can cause a loss of reflexes.
      By: Jürgen Fälchle
      Demyelinating neuropathy can cause a loss of reflexes.
    • The axons that carry nerve impulses are protected by a myelin sheath.
      By: Balint Radu
      The axons that carry nerve impulses are protected by a myelin sheath.
    • Fatigue may be experienced by someone suffering from a demyelinating disease.
      By: starsstudio
      Fatigue may be experienced by someone suffering from a demyelinating disease.
    • The symptoms of some demyelinating diseases tend to come and go and vary greatly in severity.
      By: Tracy Whiteside
      The symptoms of some demyelinating diseases tend to come and go and vary greatly in severity.
    • Depending on the location of the neurons in question, sudden back or neck pain are symptoms of demyelinating neuropathy.
      By: JcJg Photography
      Depending on the location of the neurons in question, sudden back or neck pain are symptoms of demyelinating neuropathy.
    • Tingling in the hands and feet are common symptoms of demyelinating neuropathy.
      By: ruigsantos
      Tingling in the hands and feet are common symptoms of demyelinating neuropathy.
    • Numbness and burning in the feet are common symptoms of demyelinating neuropathy.
      By: nebari
      Numbness and burning in the feet are common symptoms of demyelinating neuropathy.