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Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr. 2000 Jun;68(6):278-88.

[Diabetic somatic polyneuropathy. Pathogenesis, clinical manifestations and therapeutic concepts].

[Article in German]

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  • 1Neurologische Klinik mit Poliklinik, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg.


Diabetic polyneuropathy is the most frequent neuropathy in western countries. In Germany, there are 3.5 to 4 million diabetic patients. Diagnosis should rule out other polyneuropathies and assess two out of the five diagnostic criteria: neuropathic symptoms, neuropathic deficits, pathological nerve conduction studies, pathological quantitative sensory testing and pathological quantitative autonomic testing. So far, the pathophysiology of diabetic neuropathy remains to be fully understood. Among the various pathophysiological concepts are the Sorbitol-Myo-Inositol hypothesis attributing Myo-Inositol depletion to the accumulation of Sorbitol and Fructose, the concept of deficiency of essential fatty acids with reduced availability of gamma-linolenic-acid and prostanoids, the pseudohypoxia- and hypoxia-hypothesis attributing endothelial and axonal dysfunction and structural lesions to increased oxidative stress and free radical production. Obviously, the hyperglycemia induced generation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) also contributes to structural dysfunctions and lesions. Elevated levels of circulating immune complexes and activated T-lymphocytes as well the identification of autoantibodies against vagus nerve or sympathetic ganglia support the concept of an immune mediated neuropathy. The reduction of neurotrophic factors such as nerve growth factor, neurotrophin-3 or insulin-like growth factors also seems to further diabetic neuropathy. The symmetrical, distally pronounced and predominantly sensory neuropathy is far more frequent than the symmetrical neuropathy with predominant motor weakness or the asymmetrical neuropathy. The painless neuropathy manifests with impaired light touch sensation, position sense, vibratory perception and diminished or absent ankle deep tendon reflexes. The painful sensory diabetic neuropathy primarily affects small nerve fibers and accounts for decreased temperature perception and paresthesias. The proximal, diabetic amyotrophy evolves subacutely or acutely, induces motor weakness of the proximal thigh and buttock muscles and is painful. Cranial nerve III-neuropathy is also painful and has an acute onset. Truncal radiculopathy follows the distribution of truncal roots and frequently causes intense pain. Autonomic neuropathy occurs with and without somatic neuropathy. The most important therapy is to attempt optimal blood glucose control, to reduce body weight and hyperlipidemia. Symptomatic therapy includes alpha-lipoic acid treatment, as the antioxidant seems to improve neuropathic symptoms. Aldose reductase inhibitors might reduce sorbitol and fructose production and normalize myo-inositol levels. However, there are no aldose reductase inhibitors available in Europe as yet. Evening primrose oil, containing gamma-linolenic acid, might improve nerve conduction velocities, temperature perception, muscle strength, tendon reflexes and sensory function. Substitution of nerve growth factor showed promising results in pilot studies but failed in a large-scale multicenter study. Symptomatic pain treatment can be achieved with tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine, gabapentin or lamotrigine, or anti-arrhythmic drugs such as mexiletine. Topical capsaicin application should reduce neuropathic pain but also induces local discomfort in the beginning of therapy. Vasoactive substances, so far have not proven to be of major benefit in diabetic neuropathy. Physical therapy and thorough footcare are of primary importance and allow prevention of secondary complications such as foot amputations.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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