Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2018 Feb 9;115(6):83-90. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2018.083.


Background: Polyneuropathies (peripheral neuropathies) are the most common type of disorder of the peripheral nervous system in adults, and specifically in the elderly, with an estimated prevalence of 5-8%, depending on age. The options for treatment depend on the cause, which should therefore be identified as precisely as possible by an appropriate diagnostic evaluation.

Methods: This review is based on the current guidelines and on large-scale cohort studies and randomized, controlled trials published from 2000 to 2017, with an emphasis on non-hereditary types of polyneuropathy, that were retrieved by a selective search in PubMed.

Results: Diabetes is the most common cause of polyneuropathy in Europe and North America. Alcohol-associated polyneuropathy has a prevalence of 22-66% among persons with chronic alcoholism. Because of the increasing prevalence of malignant disease and the use of new chemotherapeutic drugs, chemotherapy-induced neuropathies (CIN) have gained in clinical importance; their prevalence is often stated to be 30-40%, with high variation depending on the drug(s) and treatment regimen used. Polyneuropathy can also arise from genetic causes or as a consequence of vitamin deficiency or overdose, exposure to toxic substances and drugs, and a variety of immunological processes. About half of all cases of polyneu - ropathy are associated with pain. Neuropathic pain can be treated symptomatically with medication. Exercise, physiotherapy, and ergotherapy can also be beneficial, depending on the patient's symptoms and functional deficits.

Conclusion: A timely diagnosis of the cause of polyneuropathy is a prerequisite for the initiation of appropriate specific treatment. Patients with severe neuropathy of unidentified cause should be referred to a specialized center for a thorough diagnostic evaluation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy
  • Polyneuropathies* / diagnosis
  • Polyneuropathies* / etiology
  • Polyneuropathies* / physiopathology
  • Polyneuropathies* / therapy