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Diagnosis and management of sensory polyneuropathy

Kelly Graham Gwathmey, Kathleen T Pearson
BMJ: British Medical Journal 2019 May 8, 365: l1108
31068323
Sensory polyneuropathies, which are caused by dysfunction of peripheral sensory nerve fibers, are a heterogeneous group of disorders that range from the common diabetic neuropathy to the rare sensory neuronopathies. The presenting symptoms, acuity, time course, severity, and subsequent morbidity vary and depend on the type of fiber that is affected and the underlying cause. Damage to small thinly myelinated and unmyelinated nerve fibers results in neuropathic pain, whereas damage to large myelinated sensory afferents results in proprioceptive deficits and ataxia. The causes of these disorders are diverse and include metabolic, toxic, infectious, inflammatory, autoimmune, and genetic conditions. Idiopathic sensory polyneuropathies are common although they should be considered a diagnosis of exclusion. The diagnostic evaluation involves electrophysiologic testing including nerve conduction studies, histopathologic analysis of nerve tissue, serum studies, and sometimes autonomic testing and cerebrospinal fluid analysis. The treatment of these diseases depends on the underlying cause and may include immunotherapy, mitigation of risk factors, symptomatic treatment, and gene therapy, such as the recently developed RNA interference and antisense oligonucleotide therapies for transthyretin familial amyloid polyneuropathy. Many of these disorders have no directed treatment, in which case management remains symptomatic and supportive. More research is needed into the underlying pathophysiology of nerve damage in these polyneuropathies to guide advances in treatment.

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