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      The diagnostic criteria for small fibre neuropathy: from symptoms to neuropathology

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          Small fibre neuropathy (SFN), a condition dominated by neuropathic pain, is frequently encountered in clinical practise either as prevalent manifestation of more diffuse neuropathy or distinct nosologic entity. Aetiology of SFN includes pre-diabetes status and immune-mediated diseases, though it remains frequently unknown. Due to their physiologic characteristics, small nerve fibres cannot be investigated by routine electrophysiological tests, making the diagnosis particularly difficult. Quantitative sensory testing (QST) to assess the psychophysical thresholds for cold and warm sensations and skin biopsy with quantification of somatic intraepidermal nerve fibres (IENF) have been used to determine the damage to small nerve fibres. Nevertheless, the diagnostic criteria for SFN have not been defined yet and a ‘gold standard’ for clinical practise and research is not available. We screened 486 patients referred to our institutions and collected 124 patients with sensory neuropathy. Among them, we identified 67 patients with pure SFN using a new diagnostic ‘gold standard’, based on the presence of at least two abnormal results at clinical, QST and skin biopsy examination. The diagnosis of SFN was achieved by abnormal clinical and skin biopsy findings in 43.3% of patients, abnormal skin biopsy and QST findings in 37.3% of patients, abnormal clinical and QST findings in 11.9% of patients, whereas 7.5% patients had abnormal results at all the examinations. Skin biopsy showed a diagnostic efficiency of 88.4%, clinical examination of 54.6% and QST of 46.9%. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis confirmed the significantly higher performance of skin biopsy comparing with QST. However, we found a significant inverse correlation between IENF density and both cold and warm thresholds at the leg. Clinical examination revealed pinprick and thermal hypoesthesia in about 50% patients, and signs of peripheral vascular autonomic dysfunction in about 70% of patients. Spontaneous pain dominated the clinical picture in most SFN patients. Neuropathic pain intensity was more severe in patients with SFN than in patients with large or mixed fibre neuropathy, but there was no significant correlation with IENF density. The aetiology of SFN was initially unknown in 41.8% of patients and at 2-year follow-up a potential cause could be determined in 25% of them. Over the same period, 13% of SFN patients showed the involvement of large nerve fibres, whereas in 45.6% of them the clinical picture did not change. Spontaneous remission of neuropathic pain occurred in 10.9% of SFN patients, while it worsened in 30.4% of them.

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          Most cited references 66

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          Restless legs syndrome: diagnostic criteria, special considerations, and epidemiology. A report from the restless legs syndrome diagnosis and epidemiology workshop at the National Institutes of Health.

          Restless legs syndrome is a common yet frequently undiagnosed sensorimotor disorder. In 1995, the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group developed standardized criteria for the diagnosis of restless legs syndrome. Since that time, additional scientific scrutiny and clinical experience have led to a better understanding of the condition. Modification of the criteria is now necessary to better reflect that increased body of knowledge, as well as to clarify slight confusion with the wording of the original criteria. The restless legs syndrome diagnostic criteria and epidemiology workshop at the National Institutes of Health. Members of the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group and authorities on epidemiology and the design of questionnaires and scales. To modify the current criteria for the diagnosis of restless legs syndrome, to develop new criteria for the diagnosis of restless legs syndrome in the cognitively impaired elderly and in children, to create standardized criteria for the identification of augmentation, and to establish consistent questions for use in epidemiology studies. The essential diagnostic criteria for restless legs syndrome were developed and approved by workshop participants and the executive committee of the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group. Criteria were also developed and approved for the additional aforementioned groups.
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            The spectrum of neuropathy in diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance.

            To compare the neuropathy associated with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and diabetes mellitus (DM) determined by oral glucose tolerance testing (OGTT). Patients with peripheral neuropathy of unknown cause were prescribed OGTT. Duration of neuropathic symptoms, neuropathic pain, neuropathy classification, nerve conduction test results, and intraepidermal nerve fiber densities (IENFD) were compared between IGT and DM groups. Seventy-three patients completed OGTT; 41 (56%) had abnormal results. Of these 41 patients, 26 had IGT and 15 had DM. Patients with IGT had less severe neuropathy than patients with diabetes, as measured by sural nerve amplitudes (p = 0.056), sural nerve conduction velocities (p = 0.03), and distal leg IENFD (p = 0.01). Patients with IGT had predominantly small fiber neuropathy, compared to patients with DM (p = 0.05), who had more involvement of large nerve fibers. The neuropathy associated with IGT is milder than the neuropathy associated with DM. Small nerve fibers are prominently affected and may be the earliest detectable sign of neuropathy in glucose dysmetabolism. OGTT is appropriate in patients with idiopathic neuropathy.
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              Surrogate markers of small fiber damage in human diabetic neuropathy.

              Surrogate markers of diabetic neuropathy are being actively sought to facilitate the diagnosis, measure the progression, and assess the benefits of therapeutic intervention in patients with diabetic neuropathy. We have quantified small nerve fiber pathological changes using the technique of intraepidermal nerve fiber (IENF) assessment and the novel in vivo technique of corneal confocal microscopy (CCM). Fifty-four diabetic patients stratified for neuropathy, using neurological evaluation, neurophysiology, and quantitative sensory testing, and 15 control subjects were studied. They underwent a punch skin biopsy to quantify IENFs and CCM to quantify corneal nerve fibers. IENF density (IENFD), branch density, and branch length showed a progressive reduction with increasing severity of neuropathy, which was significant in patients with mild, moderate, and severe neuropathy. CCM also showed a progressive reduction in corneal nerve fiber density (CNFD) and branch density, but the latter was significantly reduced even in diabetic patients without neuropathy. Both IENFD and CNFD correlated significantly with cold detection and heat as pain thresholds. Intraepidermal and corneal nerve fiber lengths were reduced in patients with painful compared with painless diabetic neuropathy. Both IENF and CCM assessment accurately quantify small nerve fiber damage in diabetic patients. However, CCM quantifies small fiber damage rapidly and noninvasively and detects earlier stages of nerve damage compared with IENF pathology. This may make it an ideal technique to accurately diagnose and assess progression of human diabetic neuropathy.

                Author and article information

                Oxford University Press
                July 2008
                4 June 2008
                4 June 2008
                : 131
                : 7
                : 1912-1925
                1Neurological Clinic, University of Ferrara, 2Neurophysiological Unit, S. Anna General Hospital, Ferrara, 3Neuromuscular Diseases Unit, National Neurological Institute ‘Carlo Besta’, Milan and 4Neurological Clinic, University of Brescia, Italy
                Author notes
                Correspondence to: Dr Giuseppe Lauria, Neuromuscular Diseases Unit, National Neurological Institute ‘Carlo Besta’, via Celoria, 11, 20133 Milan, Italy E-mail: glauria@ 123456istituto-besta.it
                © 2008 The Author(s)

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Original Articles


                neuropathy, pain, neurophysiology, skin biopsy, quantitative sensory testing


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