Background and Aims: Neuropathy in association with chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, is recognized; however, there are differences in the incidence and type of neuropathy reported. The causal relationship of liver disease to neuropathy has been questioned. This study was designed to evaluate the incidence and character of peripheral neuropathy in patients with liver cirrhosis. The effect of alcohol consumption, severity of liver disease and encephalopathy on the incidence and severity of neuropathy were also studied.
Methods: Patients having an identifiable cause of peripheral neuropathy, except alcohol, were excluded from the study. Patients with evidence of vitamin B12 deficiency or diabetes were also excluded from the study. In this study, 33 patients with liver cirrhosis were evaluated clinically and electrophysiologically to detect any evidence of peripheral neuropathy. Nerve conduction studies were performed in the upper and lower limbs using surface electrodes. These patients also underwent a detailed clinical examination.
Results: Clinical signs of peripheral neuropathy were found in seven (21%) patients. Nerve conduction studies were abnormal in 24 (73%) patients. The pattern of involvement was predominantly of an axonal sensory motor polyneuropathy. Neuropathy was found both in patients with alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related cirrhosis. The presence of encephalopathy did not have a significant bearing on the incidence and severity of neuropathy. The neuropathy was also not significantly related to the severity of liver disease.
Conclusions: The present study reveals that a significant number of patients with liver cirrhosis show evidence of peripheral neuropathy, which is present regardless of the etiology of cirrhosis, and is subclinical in a majority of these patients. The cause of neuropathy was probably the liver disease itself, as the incidence and severity of neuropathy in the alcohol-related cirrhosis, although higher, was not significantly different from the neuropathy in patients with non-alcohol-related cirrhosis.