Clinical Spectrum and Prognosis in Patients With Acute Nutritional Axonal Neuropathy

Neurology. 2023 May 16;100(20):e2134-e2140. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000207215. Epub 2023 Mar 27.

Abstract

Background and objectives: To describe the clinical, micronutrient, and electrophysiologic spectra and prognosis in patients with acute nutritional axonal neuropathy (ANAN).

Methods: Patients with ANAN were identified between 1999 and 2020 by a retrospective review of our EMG database and electronic health records and categorized on clinical and electrodiagnostic grounds, as pure sensory, sensorimotor, or pure motor; and by risk factor (alcohol use disorder, bariatric surgery, or anorexia). Laboratory abnormalities were recorded including thiamine, vitamin B6, B12, and E, folate, and copper. Ambulatory and neuropathic pain status at last follow-up were recorded.

Results: Of 40 patients with ANAN, 21 had alcohol use disorder, 10 were anorexic, and 9 had recently undergone bariatric surgery. Their neuropathy was pure sensory in 14 (7 with low thiamine), sensorimotor in 23 (8 with low thiamine), and pure motor in 3 (1 with low thiamine). Vitamin B1 was most commonly low (85%), followed by vitamin B6 (77%) and folate (50%). The risk factor and neuropathy type were not associated with a particular micronutrient deficiency. Of the 37 patients who were seen in follow-up, only 13 (35%) were walking independently, and only 8 (22%) were pain free at the last follow-up visit at a mean of 22 months (range 2-88 months) from onset.

Discussion: The spectrum of ANAN is wide, ranging from: (1) a pure sensory neuropathy with areflexia, limb and gait ataxia, neuropathic pain, and unevocable sensory responses to (2) a motor axonal neuropathy with low-amplitude motor responses without conduction slowing, block, or dispersion, and (3) a mixed sensorimotor axonal polyneuropathy. Specific micronutrient deficiencies or risk factors do not predict neuropathy subtype. The subgroup of patients with ANAN with documented thiamine deficiency also range from pure sensory to pure motor, and only a minority have Wernicke encephalopathy. We do not know whether coexistent micronutrient deficiencies may help explain the wide clinical spectrum of thiamine-deficient ANAN. The prognosis of ANAN is guarded due to residual neuropathic pain and slow recovery of independent ambulation. Therefore, early recognition of patients at risk is important.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism* / complications
  • Folic Acid
  • Humans
  • Micronutrients
  • Neuralgia* / complications
  • Prognosis
  • Thiamine
  • Vitamins

Substances

  • Thiamine
  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamins
  • Micronutrients