The Use of Biothesiometry to Detect Neuropathy in Children and Adolescents With IDDM

  1. G C Byrne, FRACP
  1. Departments of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children Perth, Western Australia
  2. Neurology, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children Perth, Western Australia
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to E.A. Davis, FRACP, 36th and Hamilton Walk, Diabetes Research Center, 501 Stremmler Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6015. E-mail: lizdavis{at}


OBJECTIVE To develop clinically useful reference ranges for vibration perception thresholds (VPTs), using biothesiometry in children and adolescents and to assess the reliability of the technique to identify subclinical neuropathy in subjects with IDDM at this age and to examine a large population-based sample of pediatric patients.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS VPTs were measured using a handheld biothesiometer at the medial malleolus and hallux in 232 nondiabetic children and adolescents aged 7–18 years (12.9 ± 4.2 years) and a population-based sample of 307 young IDDM patients (13.3 ± 4.6 years of age). The mean of three readings at each site was correlated with height, pubertal status, and age for all subjects and, in addition for the IDDM sample, with the duration of IDDM, ambient blood glucose, and mean HbA1c from diagnosis. Those IDDM subjects found to have elevated VPTs (> 97th percentile), and a control group of patients with IDDM underwent nerve conduction studies to determine the sensitivity and specificity of biothesiometry to detect abnormal neural function in children. Interoperator reliability was assessed in a separate trial in which two operators measured VPTs independently in the same 11 children.

RESULTS In the nondiabetic control subjects, height demonstrated the best correlation with VPT measures, and a reference range was thus established with percentile charts, using mean VPT and height. VPTs were higher in the diabetic sample, compared with the nondiabetic sample (P < 0.05). Of the children, 28 (9.1%) had VPT values > 97th percentile developed from studies of the nondiabetic subjects; of these, 11 were younger than 11 years and 8 were prepubertal. Nerve conduction studies confirmed reduced conduction velocity and prolonged distal latencies in those with abnormal VPTs, compared with normal control subjects and IDDM patients with normal VPTs. Sensitivity of biothesiometry to reflect abnormal nerve function was estimated as 82% and specificity as 75% at this age. Interoperator variation was small (7.25% of total variance).

CONCLUSIONS Biothesiometry is a useful noninvasive tool for the detection of subclinical neuropathy in children and adolescents. The use of height-related reference ranges may make screening for neuropathy more feasible in younger patients and allow large-scale longitudiral analysis of its development.

  • Received December 12, 1996.
  • Accepted May 22, 1997.
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