Alcoholism, peripheral neuropathy (PNP) and cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN)

J Neurol Sci. 1998 Dec 11;161(2):135-42. doi: 10.1016/s0022-510x(98)00266-4.


In contrast to diabetic autonomic neuropathy, cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN) in long-term alcoholics has been studied rarely. Using both standardized bedside tests and computer-assisted analysis of heart rate variability (HRV), we prospectively compared autonomic neurocardial function between 35 strictly selected, detoxified alcoholics (DSM-III-R), and 80 well matched healthy controls. Evidence for a potential CAN was found in 25.7% of all the alcoholics studied and in 41% of those with clinically manifest PNP (n=22). Overall, our results demonstrated a significant association between the presence of a CAN and peripheral neuropathy (PNP) amongst chronic alcoholics (chi-square test P<0.05); there was no evidence of a CAN in any of the alcoholics without a clinically manifest PNP. The CAN was characterized by a dissociated appearance of parasympathetic and sympathetic disorders. Our findings provide reason to suspect that the total lifetime dose of alcohol and the duration of alcohol dependence are the most important factors contributing to the pathogenesis of both PNP and sympathetic dysfunction. As is the case with diabetics, computer-assisted measurements of HRV including spectral analysis appear to be far superior to conventional bedside tests for detecting evidence of cardiovagal dysfunction in long-term alcoholics.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / complications*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Posture / physiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiration