Nerve biopsy

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

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.

There is no special preparation.

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.

Nerve biopsy may be done to help diagnose:

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

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

Normal Results for Nerve biopsy

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.

Abnormal results may be due to:

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

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. Cecil Medicine. 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.

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Review Date: 5/28/2013
Reviewed By: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, FRCS (C), FACS, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles CA; Department of Surgery at Los Robles Hospital, Thousand Oaks CA; Department of Surgery at Ashland Community Hospital, Ashland OR; Department of Surgery at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, Cheyenne WY; Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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