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Alcoholic Neuropathy

Last updated April 18, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Alcoholic Neuropathy, as the name suggests, affects those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol. Though any individual consuming excess alcohol is at risk, the majority of Alcoholic Neuropathy affected individuals are men.


What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Alcohol Leg

What is Alcoholic Neuropathy? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Neuropathy is defined as a condition in which the nerves that relay information between the body’s extremities and brain become damaged. Neuropathy associated with excessive alcohol use is termed Alcoholic Neuropathy
  • Alcoholic Neuropathy, as the name suggests, affects those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol. Though any individual consuming excess alcohol is at risk, the majority of Alcoholic Neuropathy affected individuals are men
  • Alcoholism and associated inadequate dietary nutrition are some known risk factors for the condition. Alcoholic Neuropathy can be caused through direct damage to the nerves by excessive and repeated alcohol use, nutritional inadequacy, and deficiency in thiamine
  • Nerve damage in Alcoholic Neuropathy is felt as numbness, pain, or tingling sensation in the arms and legs, as the brain struggles to communicate with the extremities. Severe and irreversible damage can be observed in some cases, which could lead to complication such as pain in the affected areas, trouble urinating, impotence in men, etc.
  • The healthcare provider may diagnose the condition based on a patient’s physical examination, medical history, and tests to determine mineral deficiency and nerve damage in the body
  • Treatment options for Alcoholic Neuropathy include cessation of alcohol consumption and the use of supplement nutrients in order to reverse damage to the affected nerves, where possible
  • The prognosis for Alcoholic Neuropathy depends on the extent of damage to the nerves and whether the damage is reversible or not
  • Responsible drinking could go a long way in preventing Alcoholic Neuropathy

Who gets Alcoholic Neuropathy? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Alcoholic Neuropathy is a condition that is caused by chronic alcohol abuse; it is typically observed only in individuals who are alcoholic. The majority of these individuals (around 70%) are reported to be men
  • Alcoholic Neuropathy could affect alcoholics of any age. As many as 50% of long-term alcohol users are likely to develop this condition
  • All racial and ethnic groups are prone to this condition; this condition is observed worldwide

What are the Risk Factors for Alcoholic Neuropathy? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors for Alcoholic Neuropathy include:

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Inadequate nutrition, which is a common habit or feature associated with alcoholism

What are the Causes of Alcoholic Neuropathy? (Etiology)

The exact cause of Alcoholic Neuropathy is unclear.

  • However, the direct toxicity of alcohol to the human nerves, as well as the poor nutritional habits prevalent among alcoholics is thought to contribute to the nerve damage
  • Studies have shown that neither excessive alcohol use and normal nutrient levels or nutrient deficiency alone can cause Alcoholic Neuropathy
  • The nutrient, thiamine that is acquired from one’s diet, has been determined to play a critical role in proper nerve function

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy?

The signs and symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy are:

  • Numbness and tingling of the arms and legs
  • Pain in the muscles, such as cramps or aches (muscle pain is usually more common in the legs than the arms)
  • Difficulties with urination such as leaking urine and incomplete emptying of the bladder
  • Constipation, diarrhea, even nausea and vomiting

How is Alcoholic Neuropathy Diagnosed?

Alcoholic Neuropathy is diagnosed using the following methods:

  • Physical examination with study of (family) medical history including history of alcohol consumption
  • Thorough neurological examination
  • Nerve conduction studies
  • Liver function test

A physician may diagnose Alcoholic Neuropathy by performing a standard physical examination, while also considering the signs and symptoms of the individual. The physician may also run tests to determine if minerals and nutrients in the blood are within adequate levels. Minerals and nutrients may not be absorbed by the body from one’s diet, due to excessive consumption of alcohol.

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Alcoholic Neuropathy?

Complications due to Alcoholic Neuropathy could include:

  • Disability in the affected areas
  • Long-term pain and discomfort
  • Injury to the extremities
  • Impotence in men
  • Trouble urinating

How is Alcoholic Neuropathy Treated?

The treatment measures for Alcoholic Neuropathy include:

  • Complete cessation of alcohol consumption
  • Administration of vitamin supplements
  • Maintaining a healthy diet routine

How can Alcoholic Neuropathy be Prevented?

Alcoholic Neuropathy can be easily prevented by stopping alcohol consumption (or drinking very moderately) and maintaining a healthy diet.

What is the Prognosis of Alcoholic Neuropathy? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Depending on the patient’s history with alcohol use and the extent to which the nerves are damaged, the existing nerve damage in Alcoholic Neuropathy can be permanent
  • While this nerve damage is not life-threatening, it can seriously diminish one’s quality of life

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Alcoholic Neuropathy:

The following DoveMed website link is a useful resource for additional information:

https://www.dovemed.com/health-topics/neurological-institute/

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Oct. 28, 2015
Last updated: April 18, 2018