In a prospective study of 70 unselected patients with chronic liver disease, clinical signs of a peripheral neuropathy were observed in 13 patients. Abnormal nerve conduction was demonstrated in nine of these and in one further patient who had no abnormal neurological signs. The occurrence of a neuropathy (in patients with cryptogenic cirrhosis, haemochromatosis, active chronic hepatitis as well as in alcoholic cirrhosis) could not be related to liver function, although it was associated with higher IgA and IgM values. Clinical diabetes was present in six of the 14 patients with neuropathy but there was no relation in the non-diabetic patients between neuropathy and minor impairment of carbohydrate tolerance. Those with neuropathy had a significantly higher incidence of oesophageal varices and there was also a relationship to a history of previous encephalopathy. Sural nerve biopsy was carried out on 14 patients, eight of whom had clinical or electrodiagnostic evidence of neuropathy. Single nerve fibres were examined by teasing and in all nerves histological evidence was found of an indolent process which had damaged whole Schwann cells and which resulted in demyelination and remyelination. Diabetic angiopathy was not seen and axonal degeneration, which was never severe, was found in all disease groups equally.
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