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Nerve biopsy

Definition

A nerve biopsy is the removal of a small piece of a nerve for examination.

Alternative Names

Biopsy - nerve

How the Test is Performed

A nerve biopsy is most often done on a nerve in the ankle, forearm, or along a rib.

The health care provider will apply medicine to numb the area before the procedure. The doctor makes a small surgical cut and removes a piece of the nerve. The nerve sample is sent to a lab, where it is examined under a microscope.

How to Prepare for the Test

There is no special preparation.

How the Test Will Feel

When the numbing medicine (local anesthetic) is injected, you will feel a prick and a mild sting. The biopsy site will be sore for a few days after the test.

Why the Test is Performed

Nerve biopsy may be done to help diagnose:

  • Axon degeneration (destruction of the axon portion of the nerve cell)
  • Damage to the small nerves
  • (destruction of parts of the Demyelination sheath covering the nerve)myelin
  • Inflammatory nerve conditions (neuropathies)

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

Normal Values

A normal result means the nerve appears normal.

Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

What the Risks Are

  • to the local anestheticAllergic reaction
  • Discomfort after the procedure
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
  • Permanent nerve damage (uncommon; minimized by careful site selection)

Special Considerations

Nerve biopsy is invasive and is useful only in certain situations. Talk to your doctor about your options.

References

Shy ME. Peripheral neuropathies. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. . 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier. 2007: chap 446.

Vallat, JM, Funalot, B, and Magy, L. Nerve biopsy: requirements for diagnosis and clinical value. Acta Neuropathol 2011, 121: 313-326.

Encyclopedia content is provided as information only and not intended to replace the advice and instruction from your personal physician.