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Signs of Nerve Damage

written by: Justthankful • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/15/2010

This article describes the most common signs of nerve damage for the three major types of nerves.

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    Definition of Nerve Damage

    Nerve damage is any injury or irritation of a nerve that prevents it from performing its functions optimally.

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    General Signs of Nerve damage

    The signs of nerve damage are primarily dependent on the type of nerve that is injured or irritated. However, there are some common signs that manifest in several different types of nerve damage. These signs include:

    • Tingling
    • Weakness
    • Burning
    • Numbness

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    Motor Nerve Damage

    Motor nerves are mainly responsible for voluntary body movement (i.e. walking, reaching, turning your head, etc). Here are the major signs of motor nerve damage:

    • Muscle weakness – very common
    • Loss of muscle mass
    • Uncontrolled muscle twitching
    • Cramps near the injured or irritated nerve
    • Bone loss near the injured or irritated nerve
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    Sensory Nerve Damage

    Our senses (i.e. taste, touch, smell) are controlled by sensory nerves. When you touch a hot object and pull away quickly, your sensory nerves are responsible for sending the message to the brain that you need to pull away immediately. They are also responsible for positional awareness and balance. In addition to the common signs of nerve damage described above, sensory nerve damage can result in:

    • Diminished capacity to feel vibration
    • Diminished capacity to feel light touches
    • Numbness primarily in the hands and feet
    • Inability to distinguish blunt and sharp objects
    • Inability to tell the difference between shapes
    • Loss of coordination when performing every day activities (i.e. walking)
    • Loss of balance
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    Autonomic nerve damage

    As stated above, motor nerves control voluntary movements. Autonomic nerves, in contrast, control involuntary or semi-voluntary bodily functions such as the pumping of the heart, breathing, and blood pressure. It follows, therefore, that damage to autonomic nerves can result in a wide array of symptoms that are dependent on which body system is impacted. Some of the most common symptoms include:

    • Inability to sweat due to damage to the sweat glands
    • Excessive sweating due to damage to the sweat glands
    • Loss of bladder function – (i.e. difficulty starting or completing urination)
    • Dizziness and fainting immediately after standing (also called postural or orthostatic hypotension) due to drop in blood pressure
    • Vomiting due to difficulty digesting food
    • Loss of appetite due to difficulty digesting food
    • Diarrhea due to difficulty digesting food
    • Constipation due to difficulty digesting food
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Difficulty exercising due to heart’s inability to respond to changes in physical activity levels
    • Sexual dysfunction in men (i.e. erectile dysfunction) and women (arousal difficulty, vaginal dryness)
    • Hypoglycemic unawareness (i.e. unaware of low blood sugar symptoms such as shaking and increased heart rate)
    • Night vision difficulties due to inability of the pupils to properly adjust from light to dark

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    The Mayo Clinic. Autonomic neuropathy.

    National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Peripheral neuropathy fact sheet.