Dec. 5 -- THURSDAY, Dec. 4 (HealthDay News) -- A combination of blood tests and other specialized assessments seems to be most effective in finding the cause of a common nerve problem called neuropathy, according to new guidelines issued by the American Academy of Neurology.
Neuropathy, which affects one in 50 people in the general population and one in 12 people older than 55, usually causes numbness, tingling or pain that often starts in the feet and moves to the hands. Muscle weakness and wasting may also occur. Diabetes is the most common cause of neuropathy, which can also be caused by heredity, alcohol abuse, poor nutrition and autoimmune disorders, the academy said.
The authors of the new guidelines analyzed all available scientific studies.
"People with suspected nerve problems should talk to their doctors about screening tests, especially blood glucose, vitamin B12 level and serum protein levels, since these tests can often point to common causes of neuropathy," guidelines author Dr. John D. England, chairman of the neurology department at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, said in an academy news release.
The guidelines also recommend tailored genetic testing for diagnosis of certain neuropathies that run in families and a combination of specialized tests to evaluate neuropathies with autonomic dysfunction. These autonomic tests measure the action of the tiny nerves that control functions such as sweating, heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, skin biopsy may help diagnose loss of tiny nerve fibers in the skin.
The guidelines were published Dec. 3 in the journal Neurology.
"There are many people with a neuropathy who have been walking around for years without having been diagnosed and treated. Both neurologists and people with neuropathy need to know that the appropriate choice of tests is critical to accurate diagnosis," said England, a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.
The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging has more about diabetic neuropathy.
SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, Dec. 3, 2008