The natural history of chronic painful peripheral neuropathy in a community diabetes population

Diabet Med. 2006 Sep;23(9):1021-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-5491.2006.01904.x.


Aims: To examine the natural history of chronic painful diabetic neuropathy (CPDN).

Methods: A cross-sectional study of 350 people with diabetes was performed during 1998-1999 to assess the prevalence of CPDN in the community. Fifty-six patients with CPDN were identified and were followed up an average of 5 years later.

Results: From the original cohort, 12 patients had died and 14 had moved away or were unable to participate in the follow-up study. Thus 30 patients with CPDN [21 male, mean (SD) age 68.6 years (9.4), mean (SD) duration of diabetes 15.4 years (8.7)] were re-assessed. Seven (23%) had been pain free for at least 12 months and 23 continued to report neuropathic pain of similar quality and severity [total McGill Pain Questionnaire Score median (interquartile range) at follow-up 22 (16-39) vs. 20 (16-33) at baseline, P = 0.3; mean (SD) visual analogue scale (VAS) score for pain over the preceding 24 h 5.3 cm (2.9) vs. 4.6 cm (2.5) at baseline, P = 0.1]. Only 65% had ever received treatment for CPDN despite 96% (22/23) reporting pain to their physician; 43.5% had received antidepressants, 17.4% anticonvulsants, 39% opiates and 30% had tried complementary therapies.

Conclusions: The neuropathic pain of CPDN can resolve completely over time in a minority (23%). In those in whom painful neuropathic symptoms had persisted over 5 years, no significant improvement in pain intensity was observed. Despite the improvement in treatment modalities for chronic pain in recent years, patients with CPDN continue to be inadequately treated.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Community Health Services
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / complications*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prognosis
  • Treatment Outcome