Increasingly more tests are being used to detect and characterize diabetic polyneuropathy, but their value in setting minimal criteria for the diagnosis of neuropathy and for staging severity remains inadequately studied. In 180 diabetics, we compared the percentage of patients with test abnormalities and associations among test results, evaluating neuropathic symptoms [neuropathy symptom score (NSS) and neuropathy scale of neuropathy symptom profile (NNSP)], deficits [neurologic disability score (NDS) and vibratory (VDT) and cooling (CDT) detection thresholds], or nerve dysfunction [nerve conduction (NC)]. The percentage of patients that were abnormal varied considerably depending on criteria for abnormality and the tests used. Abnormality (≥ 3 SD of 1 or more parameters) of NC of one or more of four nerves occurred in 80%, of two or more in 69%, of three or more in 46%, and of four in 21%. Similarly, for other tests, the rate of abnormality decreased with use of increasingly stringent criteria. Setting the criteria for abnormal NC at abnormality of two or more nerves, NSS at ≥ 1, NDS at > 6, NNSP at ≥ 97.5th percentile, and at ≥ 95th percentile for the other tests, NC was abnormal in 69%, NSS in 54%, NDS in 48%, NNSP in 47%, VDT in 44%, and CDT in 35%. Abnormality of any two or more of the six tests evaluated occurred in 64% of patients. We estimated that at least 16% of patients without abnormal NC (<2 abnormal nerves) had other findings indicative of neuropathy. By regression analysis, results of one test were in almost all cases associated with those of another test, but the association was not close enough to be predictive. Therefore, although NC provides objective and repeatable results, symptoms and deficits must be measured independently. Assuming no differences between groups of patients, the standardized and validated test (NNSP, VDT, or CDT) should provide the same results at different medical centers. By contrast, the results of NSS or NDS tests, with less standardized approaches and based on the judgment of physicians, might not provide the same results at different medical centers. Tests such as the ones described here may be used to define minimal criteria for the diagnosis of polyneuropathy and for staging its severity.

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