What is peripheral neuropathy?
“Peripheral neuropathy”refers to any damage to nerves in the body’s extremities, such as the hands, feet and arms. This can lead to symptoms such as pins and needles or a numbness in your feet that gradually moves up to your legs, or likewise, from your fingers up into your arms. In rare occasions this sensation can be a sign of leukaemia, and is reported by approximately 6% of leukaemia patients before they are diagnosed.
Other symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include;
- Often described as sharp, burning or jabbing sensation.
- Lack of co-ordination and dexterity.
- Altered sensation, for example, feeling pain or heat when touching something cold.
What causes peripheral neuropathy in leukaemia?
Nerves of the peripheral nervous system transmit information from the extremities of the body to the spinal cord and brain. Leukaemia or lymphoma cells in the blood can sometimes produce chemicals called “paraproteins”which attach to these nerves endings causing temporary damage, resulting in tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands or feet. It usually gets worse over time and spreads as the cancerous cells increase in number.
High levels of white blood cells in the blood can also sometimes cause the blood to thicken and clog up small vessels leading to a group of symptoms known collectively as hyperviscocity syndrome.Peripheral neuropathy will sometimes occur if small blood vessels surrounding peripheral nerves are blocked.
When should I be concerned?
It is important to know that leukaemia is rarely the cause of peripheral neuropathy. More common causes range from diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, vitamin B12 deficiency to infection or reactions to certain medicines.
However, if you do notice any of the above symptoms, it is crucial that you visit your GP to properly investigate the underlying cause. Make sure to push for a blood test if you are experiencing any other symptoms of leukaemia.
Knowing what other symptoms are typical of leukaemia is crucial for helping you make the decision to visit your GP sooner for a blood test. Connect the dots between the symptoms of leukaemia and spot leukaemia sooner.
For information on the other symptoms of leukaemia, click here.