Diabetic Autonomic Neuropathy

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ABSTRACT—Diabetic autonomic neuropathy (DAN) is a serious and common complication of diabetes. Despite its relationship to an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality and its association with multiple symptoms and impairments, the significance ofDANhas not been fully appreciated. The reported prevalence ofDANvaries widely depending on the cohort studied and the methods of assessment. In randomly selected cohorts of asymptomatic individuals with diabetes, ?20% had abnormal cardiovascular autonomic function. DAN frequently coexists with other peripheral neuropathies and other diabetic complications, but DAN may be isolated, frequently preceding the detection of other complications. Major clinical manifestations of DAN include resting tachycardia, exercise intolerance, orthostatic hypotension, constipation, gastro- paresis, erectile dysfunction, sudomotor dysfunction, impaired neurovascular function, “brit- tle diabetes,” and hypoglycemic autonomic failure. DAN may affect many organ systems throughout the body (e.g., gastrointestinal [GI], genitourinary, and cardiovascular). GI distur- bances (e.g., esophageal enteropathy, gastroparesis, constipation, diarrhea, and fecal inconti- nence) are common, and any section of the GI tract may be affected. Gastroparesis should be suspected in individuals with erratic glucose control. Upper-GI symptoms should lead to con- sideration of all possible causes, including autonomic dysfunction. Whereas a radiographic gastric emptying study can definitively establish the diagnosis of gastroparesis, a reasonable approach is to exclude autonomic dysfunction and other known causes of these upper-GI symptoms. Constipation is the mostcommonlower-GI symptom but can alternate with episodes of diarrhea. Diagnostic approaches should rule out autonomic dysfunction and the well-known causes such as neoplasia. Occasionally, anorectal manometry and other specialized tests typically performed by the gastroenterologist may be helpful. DAN is also associated with genitourinary tract disturbances including bladder and/or sexual dysfunction. Evaluation of bladder dysfunc- tion should be performed for individuals with diabetes who have recurrent urinary tract infec- tions, pyelonephritis, incontinence, or a palpable bladder. Specialized assessment of bladder dysfunction will typically be performed by a urologist. In men, DAN may cause loss of penile erection and/or retrograde ejaculation. A complete workup for erectile dysfunction in men should include history (medical and sexual); psychological evaluation; hormone levels; mea- surement of nocturnal penile tumescence; tests to assess penile, pelvic, and spinal nerve func- tion; cardiovascular autonomic function tests; and measurement of penile and brachial blood pressure. Neurovascular dysfunction resulting from DAN contributes to a wide spectrum of clinical disorders including erectile dysfunction, loss of skin integrity, and abnormal vascular reflexes. Disruption of microvascular skin bloodflowand sudomotor function may be among the earliest manifestations of DAN and lead to dry skin, loss of sweating, and the development of fissures and cracks that allow microorganisms to enter. These changes ultimately contribute to the development of ulcers, gangrene, and limb loss. Various aspects of neurovascular function can be evaluated with specialized tests, but generally these have not been well standardized and have limited clinical utility. Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN) is the most studied and clinically important form ofDAN.Meta-analyses of published data demonstrate that reduced cardiovascular autonomic function as measured by heart rate variability (HRV) is strongly (i.e., relative risk is doubled) associated with an in- creased risk of silent myocardial ischemia and mortality. The determination of the presence of CAN is usually based on a battery of auto- nomic function tests rather than just on one test. Proceedings from a consensus conference in 1992 recommended that three tests (R-R variation, Valsalva maneuver, and postural blood pressure testing) be used for longitudi- nal testing of the cardiovascular autonomic system. Other forms of autonomic neuropathy can be evaluated with specialized tests, but these are less standardized and less available than commonly used tests of cardiovascular autonomic function, which quantify loss of HRV. Interpretability of serial HRV testing re- quires accurate, precise, and reproducible procedures that use established physiological maneuvers. The battery of three recom- mended tests for assessing CAN is readily per- formed in the average clinic, hospital, or diagnostic center with the use of available technology. Measurement of HRV at the time of diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and within 5 years after diagnosis of type 1 diabetes (unless an individual has symptoms suggestive of au- tonomic dysfunction earlier) serves to estab- lish a baseline, with which 1-year interval tests can be compared. Regular HRV testing pro- vides early detection and thereby promotes timely diagnostic and therapeutic interven- tions. HRV testing may also facilitate differen- tial diagnosis and the attribution of symptoms (e.g., erectile dysfunction, dyspepsia, and diz- ziness) to autonomic dysfunction. Finally, knowledge of early autonomic dysfunction can encourage patient and physician to im- prove metabolic control and to use therapies such as ACE inhibitors and ?-blockers, proven to be effective for patients with CAN

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