DISEASE & TREATMENT

What Is CIDP and Why Do Symptoms Occur?

Take a deeper dive into why CIDP symptoms occur

CIDP (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy) is a rare autoimmune condition that affects people differently, causing weakness and numbness in the arms and legs. Autoimmune conditions happen when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells and tissues. 

For some, CIDP continuously worsens over time, while others have symptoms that stabilize and relapse, or some experience a CIDP episode that lasts 1-3 years and does not return.

There are different types of CIDP, each with varying symptoms, all related to changes in the arms and legs. These types include:

  • Typical CIDP: symmetrical muscle weakness and sensory loss, affecting both the arms and legs
  • Distal CIDP: muscle weakness and sensory loss primarily in the legs
  • Multifocal CIDP: muscle weakness and sensory loss asymmetrically affecting primarily the arms
  • Focal CIDP: muscle weakness and sensory loss in only one limb
  • Motor CIDP: muscle weakness without sensory symptoms
  • Sensory CIDP: sensory loss without motor symptoms

Nerve cells without CIDP

Messages are sent through the nerve fiber as electrical currents, and the myelin keeps the electrical current insulted within the nerve. Messages are sent through the nerve fiber as electrical currents, and the myelin keeps the electrical current insulted within the nerve. Messages are sent through the nerve fiber as electrical currents, and the myelin keeps the electrical current insulted within the nerve.

In the nervous system, nerve cells (neurons) are responsible for sending messages to and from the brain using electrical currents. Healthy neurons in the nervous system are coated with a fat and protein called myelin. Myelin acts as an insulator to keep the electrical currents inside the neuron, so the messages can travel quickly to and from the brain.

Nerve cells with CIDP

The message that flows through the neuron with CIDP is slowed down or lost due to the damaged myelin. The message that flows through the neuron with CIDP is slowed down or lost due to the damaged myelin. The message that flows through the neuron with CIDP is slowed down or lost due to the damaged myelin.

With CIDP, the myelin is damaged over time. This means the messages sent to and from the brain can get lost along the way or take longer to reach their destination, which is why people living with CIDP generally experience weakness and loss of feeling in their arms and legs.

How myelin is damaged in people with CIDP

A normal IgG antibody and a harmful IgG antibody. A normal IgG antibody and a harmful IgG antibody. A normal IgG antibody and a harmful IgG antibody.

Although the cause of CIDP is not fully understood, some studies have shown that with CIDP, the body accidentally creates harmful antibodies, known as harmful IgG (immunoglobulin G) antibodies. These antibodies attack the myelin coating and break it down on the neurons, in the peripheral nervous system—the part of the nervous system responsible for messages from your brain and spinal cord to your organs, arms, and legs. CIDP symptoms occur because the communication to and from the brain is lost or slowed.

In someone without CIDP, IgG antibodies do not attack myelin. Instead, they play a role in protecting the immune system, which in turn, help protect the body from disease.

The harmful IgG antibody attacks the myelin and exposes the nerve.9 The harmful IgG antibody attacks the myelin and exposes the nerve.9 The harmful IgG antibody attacks the myelin and exposes the nerve.9

Possible symptoms of CIDP include:

  • Tingling or sensory loss in the arms and legs
  • Weakness of arms and legs
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty walking
  • Burning pain
  • Difficulty lifting objects
  • Fatigue

CIDP has many symptoms, so you may want to jot yours down in a notebook or journal. Sharing this information may help you have a more productive conversation with your neurologist.

A goal for people diagnosed with CIDP is to reduce symptoms and slow disease progression. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your treatment plan and treatment goals.

There is a lot to learn about living with CIDP and facing the challenges that come with it, but with the right support and care, you can find new ways to enjoy the things you love.

Fast facts

  • CIDP is not genetic (inherited), and it’s not contagious
  • CIDP affects people of many ages and races, but it is more common in men between the ages 40 and 60
  • CIDP is a rare disease that affects an estimated 34,000 Americans

CIDP glossary

When it comes to having CIDP, knowledge really is power. Here are a few medical terms that people living with CIDP or supporting someone with CIDP may find helpful.

  • Autoimmune condition: the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells and tissues
  • Relapse: the return or worsening of symptoms that follow a period of improvement
  • Peripheral nervous system: a system of nerves that delivers messages from your brain and spinal cord to your organs, arms, and legs
  • Neuron: a nerve cell
  • Myelin: the protective layer that surrounds the neuron and that acts as an insulator to keep the electrical messages within the neuron
  • Harmful IgG antibody: a harmful antibody that mistakenly attacks the myelin in the peripheral nervous system of people with CIDP

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