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Nerve biopsy

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

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 applies medicine to numb the area before the procedure. The doctor makes a small surgical cut and removes a piece of the nerve. The cut is then closed and a bandage is put on it. 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 may 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
  • Demyelination (destruction of parts of the myelin sheath covering the nerve)
  • Inflammatory nerve conditions (neuropathies)

Conditions for which the test may be done include any of the following:

Normal Results

A normal result means the nerve appears normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

Risks

Risks of the procedure may include:

  • 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 provider about your options.

Alternative Names

Biopsy - nerve

Images

References

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Nerve biopsy - diagnostic. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:814-815.

Shy ME. Peripheral neuropathies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 420.

Review Date 5/15/2017

Updated by: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.