An update on electrophysiological studies in neuropathy

Curr Opin Neurol. 2003 Oct;16(5):603-12. doi: 10.1097/01.wco.0000093104.34793.94.


Purpose of review: The review concentrates on the use of clinical neurophysiology in peripheral nerve disorders covered in the present issue. It is pertinent to distinguish different types of involvement of fibers in diabetic neuropathy, including the involvement of small and large fibers, to outline the diagnostic criteria of inflammatory neuropathies, and to describe the spectrum of peripheral nerve pathophysiology in inherited neuropathies. Painful neuropathies represent a particular challenge to clinical neurophysiology since it is mainly small fibers, which are difficult to study, that are affected.

Recent findings: Electrodiagnostic studies have relevance in distinguishing neuropathies with different etiologies in diabetes mellitus, and different strategies and methods are necessary to study patients with autonomic and small-fiber involvement. The involvement of motor or sensory fibers, or both, and primary axonal or demyelinative pathology are important questions relating to immune-mediated neuropathies studied in the context of the specificity of antibodies against various neuronal and Schwann-cell structures. In hereditary neuropathy, electrophysiological studies are also used to distinguish axonal neuropathies from demyelinating neuropathies, though overlap and 'intermediate' patterns have become well recognized. In pain syndromes, conventional electrophysiological studies may give normal results if large fibers are not involved, and the use of autonomic measures in these situations has particular relevance.

Summary: The usefulness of electrodiagnostic measures depends on the clinical, diagnostic, or pathophysiological question involved, and the strategy employed should reflect the advantages and limitations of these methods. If adequate consideration is paid to these properties, then such studies have a central role in the diagnosis and adequate treatment of patients with neuromuscular disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetic Neuropathies / physiopathology
  • Electromyography*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology
  • Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated / pathology
  • Pain / etiology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / genetics
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / immunology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*