Diabetic neuropathy: what does the future hold?

Diabetologia. 2020 May;63(5):891-897. doi: 10.1007/s00125-020-05085-9. Epub 2020 Jan 23.


Frustratingly, disease-modifying treatments for diabetic neuropathy remain elusive. Glycaemic control has a robust effect on preventing neuropathy in individuals with type 1 but not in those with type 2 diabetes, which constitute the vast majority of patients. Encouragingly, recent evidence points to new metabolic risk factors and mechanisms, and thus also at novel disease-modifying strategies, which are desperately needed. Obesity has emerged as the second most important metabolic risk factor for neuropathy (diabetes being the first) from consensus findings of seven observational studies in populations across the world. Moreover, dyslipidaemia and altered sphingolipid metabolism are emergent novel mechanisms of nerve injury that may lead to new targeted therapies. Clinical history and examination remain critical components of an accurate diagnosis of neuropathy. However, skin biopsies and corneal confocal microscopy are promising newer tests that have been used as outcome measures in research studies but have not yet demonstrated clear clinical utility. Given the emergence of obesity as a neuropathy risk factor, exercise and weight loss are potential interventions to treat and/or prevent neuropathy, although evidence supporting exercise currently outweighs data supporting weight loss. Furthermore, a consensus has emerged advocating tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin-noradrenaline (norepinephrine) reuptake inhibitors and gabapentinoids for treating neuropathic pain. Out-of-pocket costs should be considered when prescribing these medications since their efficacy and tolerability are similar. Finally, the downsides of opioid treatment for chronic, non-cancer pain are becoming increasingly evident. Despite these data, current clinical practice frequently initiates and continues opioid prescriptions for patients with neuropathic pain before prescribing guideline-recommended treatments.

Keywords: Diabetes; Dyslipidaemia; Exercise; Neuropathy; Obesity; Opioids; Pain; Skin biopsy; Sphingolipids; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / drug therapy*
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / metabolism
  • Dyslipidemias / drug therapy
  • Dyslipidemias / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Sphingolipids