Electrodiagnosis of polyneuropathy

Neurophysiol Clin. 2000 Dec;30(6):339-51. doi: 10.1016/s0987-7053(00)00237-9.


Electrodiagnostic studies comprising electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCS) are well-established objective methods for the diagnosis, quantification and classification of polyneuropathies (PNP). This paper reviews examination techniques, their pathophysiological interpretation, examination strategies and diagnostic criteria for the diagnosis and classification of a PNP. The routine electrodiagnostic evaluation includes sensory NCSs performed with surface or needle electrodes, motor NCSs, F-wave studies and EMG by qualitative or quantitative techniques. Sensory NCSs and F-wave studies have a high sensitivity in PNPs and the different techniques complement each other. The distinction between a PNP with predominantly axonal loss and a PNP with predominantly demyelination is one of the major aims of the electrophysiological examination. There are, however, large variation in suggested criteria for predominantly demyelination. The degree of slowing in conduction taken to indicate demyelination varies between a decrease of 50 to 30% from mean of controls, distal latency prolongation criteria vary from 35% to 70% of mean of controls, F-wave latency prolongation criteria vary from 120% to 150% of upper limit of controls, and criteria for partial motor conduction block vary from 11 to 50% reduction of CMAP amplitude and/or area between proximal and distal stimulation. Needle EMG studies may be valuable in order to detect and quantify denervation activity, to assess chronicity by an evaluation of the extent of reinnervation, and to evaluate the topographical distribution of changes. It is concluded that electrodiagnostic studies are valuable in patients with suspected PNP and the results may have consequences for prognosis and therapy of individual patients. Large variation in examination techniques, strategies, interpretations and diagnostic criteria have been found among electromyographers and it is suggested that the value of electrodiagnostic studies may be further improved by international standardisation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease / diagnosis
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease / physiopathology
  • Demyelinating Diseases / diagnosis
  • Denervation
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electrodes
  • Electrodiagnosis / instrumentation
  • Electrodiagnosis / methods*
  • Electrodiagnosis / standards
  • Electromyography
  • H-Reflex
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Neural Conduction
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Polyneuropathies / diagnosis*
  • Polyneuropathies / physiopathology
  • Prognosis
  • Reflex, Abnormal
  • Sensation Disorders / diagnosis
  • Sensitivity and Specificity