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Neurology. 1999 Nov 10;53(8):1641-7.

Painful sensory neuropathy: prospective evaluation using skin biopsy.

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1
Department of Neurology, The Ohio State University, Columbus 43210, USA. periquet1@osu.du

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

In patients presenting with painful, burning feet with minimal signs of neuropathy, the following questions were addressed: 1) How many of these patients have a peripheral neuropathy? 2) What is the role of skin biopsy in establishing a diagnosis of neuropathy? 3) What conditions are associated with the neuropathy? and 4) What laboratory studies are useful in this patient population?

METHODS:

A total of 117 consecutive patients referred for evaluation were prospectively studied. All underwent nerve conduction studies (NCS) and a battery of blood tests, including antinerve antibodies. If NCS were normal, a punch biopsy of the skin of the distal leg was performed to ascertain the intraepidermal nerve fiber (IENF) density. In a subset of 32 patients, the sensitivity of skin biopsy was compared to quantitative sudomotor axon test (QSART) and quantitative sensory tests (QST).

RESULTS:

Three groups emerged. Group 1, with abnormal NCS (n = 60, 34 F/26 M, mean age 60 +/- 14 years), represented 51% of the cohort. The majority had neuropathies of undetermined cause, but 18 (30%) had associated conditions. Group 2, with normal NCS and reduced IENF density (n = 44, 29 F/15 M, mean age 57 +/- 14 years), represented 38% of the cohort. Three in this group had associated conditions. Group 3, with normal NCS and IENF density (n = 13, 6 F/7 M, mean age 53 +/- 13 years), represented 11% of the cohort; most had no diagnoses but two had MS. In a comparative subset analysis, skin biopsy was more sensitive than QSART or QST in diagnosing a neuropathy.

CONCLUSIONS:

Patients presenting with painful feet are heterogeneous, consisting of both large and small fiber sensory neuropathies. In rare cases, a central cause for pain can be found. Over one-third of patients required a skin biopsy to diagnose a small fiber sensory neuropathy. A limited battery of blood tests facilitated diagnosis, but serum antinerve antibodies were not helpful.

PMID:
10563606
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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