Have numbness, pain or muscle weakness? Guidelines identify best tests for neuropathy

December 3, 2008

New guidelines developed by the American Academy of Neurology find a combination of blood tests and other specialized assessments appear to be the most helpful tests for finding the cause of neuropathy. Also known as neuritis or distal symmetric polyneuropathy, this common nerve problem affects people of all ages. The guidelines are published in the December 3, 2008, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Neuropathy affects one in 50 people in the general population and one in 12 over the age of 55. It usually causes numbness, tingling or pain, often starting in the feet and moving to the hands. Symptoms spread slowly and evenly up the legs and arms. Muscle wasting and weakness can also occur. Neuropathy takes many forms and has many causes. The most common cause is diabetes. Other common causes are heredity, alcohol abuse, poor nutrition and autoimmune processes. Not all of the causes are known.

"There are many people with a neuropathy who have been walking around for years without having been diagnosed and treated," said guidelines author John D. England, MD, Chairman of the Department of Neurology at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. "Both neurologists and people with neuropathy need to know that the appropriate choice of tests is critical to accurate diagnosis."

To develop the guidelines, the authors analyzed all available scientific studies on the topic.

The guidelines recommend that doctors obtain certain blood tests for all patients with numb, painful feet. "People with suspected nerve problems should talk to their doctors about screening tests, especially blood glucose, vitamin B12 level and serum protein levels, since these tests can often point to common causes of neuropathy," said England. The guidelines recommend tailored genetic testing for accurately diagnosing certain neuropathies that run in families.

The guidelines further recommend that doctors consider a combination of specialized tests to accurately evaluate neuropathies with autonomic dysfunction. These tests, known as autonomic tests, measure the action of the tiny nerves that control such functions as sweating, heart rate and blood pressure. Skin biopsy may also be useful to diagnose loss of tiny nerve fibers in the skin.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Explore further: Groundbreaking research to improve diagnosis of colic in horses

Related Stories

Deadly fish virus still present in Wisconsin lake

October 23, 2015

In May 2007, hundreds of freshwater drum—also known as sheepshead—turned up dead in Lake Winnebago and nearby Little Lake Butte des Morts, both inland lakes near Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The fish were splotched with red and ...

Pacific preparedness

October 26, 2015

Not far from Tokyo's Imperial Palace, an alarm pierces the air. At a nearby elementary school, hundreds of children drop to the floor, scramble beneath their desks and hold on for dear life. It's March 9, 2012, two days before ...

Researchers studying ways to combat deadly swine virus

October 28, 2015

Kansas State University is flexing its research muscle in swine nutrition and grain science in hopes of taking out a deadly virus that is said to have a 100 percent mortality rate in piglets less than 7 days old.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.