The need for a standardized and valid means of assessing diabetic neuropathy has been increasingly recognized. To identify potential components of such an assessment, interobserver variation (neurologist and internist) of a standard neurologic examination and the comparability of this examination with vibratory and thermal sensitivity testing was studied. The study population comprised the first 100 participants in a neuropathy substudy of 25- to 34-yr-old subjects with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus taking part in a cohort follow-up study. Symptoms of dysesthesias, paresthesias, and burning, aching, or stabbing pain revealed good interobserver agreement. Signs of neuropathy, more prevalent in the great toe than index finger, showed poor interobserver agreement for vibration, but fair interobserver agreement for touch and pinprick. Mean quantitative sensory thresholds differed significantly by clinical category of abnormal vibratory and pinprick sensations. Threshold testing showed twice the prevalence of abnormality compared with clinical examination. It is concluded that components of the clinical examination can be identified that, along with quantitative sensory-threshold testing, may provide a satisfactory core assessment for use both in epidemiologic studies and incorporation into more in-depth protocols required for clinical research and practice. The clinical relevance of the greater prevalence of abnormalities on threshold testing will be established by long-term follow-up.

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