Sensory peripheral neuropathy can make a simple task such as walking into a difficult one.

Most people take the ability to walk for granted. But if you are afflicted with sensory peripheral neuropathy, one of the most common nerve disorders, you will soon realise how difficult the simple act of walking can be.

Sensory peripheral neuropathy impedes your ability to feel or “sense” your feet, making it difficult to keep a steady gait. You may lose your balance and become more prone to falls.

The National Neuroscience Institute​ (NNI), a member of the SingHea​lth​ group, sees more than 100 cases of sensory peripheral neuropathy every year. As only the more severe or symptomatic cases are referred to NNI specialists, the number of cases in​​​ the whole of Singapore is presumably much higher.

The condition drew much attention in 2011, after it was revealed that late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew suffers from it.

"Sensory peripheral neuropat​hy tends to affect people aged over 60. “It is not life-threatening, but it can progressively lead to leg numbness or loss of sensation on the skin of the legs,” says Dr Josiah Chai, Senior Consultant, Depart​​​ment of Neurology, National Neu​roscience Institute​ (NNI), a member of the SingHealth​ group.

What is the peripheral nervous system?

The body’s nervous system has two parts: the central nervous system (comprising the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (rest of the nerves).

Damage to the peripheral nervous system can affect the sensory nerves, motor nerves or autonomic nerves.

When the peripheral sensory nerves are damaged, they fail to send sensory messages of pain, touch, heat or cold, vibration and position sense from your hands or feet to the brain, hence the loss of sensation and unsteady gait.

Symptoms of sensory peripheral neuropathy

The following symptoms may be present:

  1. ​Gradual numbness and tingling in the ​hands or feet (may spread to arms and legs)
  2. Burning pain
  3. Impaired ability to sense the position of one’s limbs
  4. Loss of balance and coordination
  5. Extreme sensitivity to touch​​

Ref: U11​