The objective of this report was to develop a case definition of "distal symmetrical polyneuropathy" to standardize and facilitate clinical research and epidemiological studies. A formalized consensus process was employed to reach agreement after a systematic review and classification of evidence from the literature. The literature indicates that symptoms alone have relatively poor diagnostic accuracy in predicting the presence of polyneuropathy; signs are better predictors of polyneuropathy than symptoms; and single abnormalities on examination are less sensitive than multiple abnormalities in predicting the presence of polyneuropathy. The combination of neuropathic symptoms, signs, and electrodiagnostic findings provides the most accurate diagnosis of distal symmetrical polyneuropathy. A set of case definitions was rank ordered by likelihood of disease. The highest likelihood of polyneuropathy (useful for clinical trials) occurs with a combination of multiple symptoms, multiple signs, and abnormal electrodiagnostic studies. A modest likelihood of polyneuropathy (useful for field or epidemiological studies) occurs with a combination of multiple symptoms and multiple signs when the results of electrodiagnostic studies are not available. A lower likelihood of polyneuropathy occurs when electrodiagnostic studies and signs are discordant. For research purposes, the best approach for defining distal symmetrical polyneuropathy is a set of case definitions rank ordered by estimated likelihood of disease. The inclusion of this formalized case definition in clinical and epidemiological research studies will ensure greater consistency of case selection.