In 30 patients with diabetic neuropathy sensory potentials in the median nerve, motor conduction in the lateral popliteal and median nerves, and electromyographic findings in distal and proximal muscles were compared with the severity of symptoms and signs. All patients had abnormalities in at least one of the electrophysiological parameters. The sensory potentials were the most sensitive indicator of subclinical involvement; abnormalities were found in 24 patients, 12 of whom had no sensory symptoms or signs and five of whom had no other clinical or electrophysiological evidence of neuropathy in the upper extremities. This indicates that sensory nerve fibres may be affected before motor. The next most sensitive parameter was the presence of fibrillation potentials, found in more than half the distal muscles examined. Slowing in motor conduction in the lateral popliteal nerve was the only electrophysiological change correlated to the severity of the neuropathy, and no other electrophysiological parameter was correlated to the duration or the severity of the neuropathy or the diabetes. An onset of neuropathy before or simultaneously with the manifestations of the diabetes, as well as the frequent occurrence of asymptomatic changes in sensory conduction, support the evidence at hand that the neuropathy develops concomitantly with and as an integral part of the metabolic disturbance rather than as a consequence of the vascular complications of diabetes. Of three patients with clinical signs or symptoms of a diabetic amyotrophy, two had asymptomatic electrophysiological abnormalities in distal nerves and muscles, consistent with widespread involvement of the peripheral nerves. The third patient had electromyographic changes in the medial vastus muscles suggestive of a myopathy. Motor and sensory conduction in distal and proximal nerves were normal.
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