The development of new treatments to slow or arrest the progression of diabetic polyneuropathy (DPN) has increased the importance of the early and accurate identification of this complication. It is likely that effective intervention will be possible only during the subclinical or early phase of dysfunction. Accurate diagnosis of DPN is a formidable task because of the diversity of presentations, involvement of different nerve fiber types, and the common dissociation of symptoms from objective measures of neural function. Several diagnostic tools are available or in development, each with strengths and limitations. Electrophysiology is a sensitive, objective, and targeted measure of DPN, but it reflects, almost exclusively, the activity of large-caliber, myelinated axons. Newly refined skin-punch biopsy procedures use morphometric and immunohistochemical methods to examine thinly myelinated and unmyelinated nerve fibers. The integrity, density, and distribution of these fibers may provide a sensitive index of small-fiber distal axonopathy. Improvements in quantitative sensory testing include better control of stimulation characteristics and the use of computer-assisted testing algorithms (e.g., CASE IV), as well as the ability to examine a distal to proximal gradient of sensation (Physitemp NTE-2a). Composite scales, which combine the assessment of signs, symptoms, electrophysiology, and specific quantitative sensory measures, have also been proposed and, in some cases, validated. The existing diagnostic tools and newly emerging methods provide a battery of tests that can be used to assess multiple aspects of neural function and increase sensitivity to detect the onset and progression of DPN. Copyright (C) 1999 Excerpta Medica Inc.
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