Electromyography (EMG) accuracy compared to muscle biopsy in childhood

Malcolm Rabie, Joseph Jossiphov, Yoram Nevo

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Reports show wide variability of electromyography (EMG) in detecting pediatric neuromuscular disorders. The study's aim was to determine EMG/nerve conduction study accuracy compared to muscle biopsy and final clinical diagnosis, and sensitivity for myopathic motor unit potential detection in childhood. Of 550 EMG/nerve conduction studies performed by the same examiner from a pediatric neuromuscular service, 27 children (ages 6 days to 16 years [10 boys; M:F, 1:1.7]) with muscle biopsies and final clinical diagnoses were compared retrospectively. Final clinical diagnoses were congenital myopathies (5 of 27,18%), nonspecific myopathies (biopsy myopathic, final diagnosis uncertain; 6 of 27, 22%), congenital myasthenic syndrome (3 of 27, 11%), juvenile myasthenia gravis (1 of 27, 4%), arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (2 of 27, 7%), hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy (1 of 27, 4%), bilateral peroneal neuropathies (1 of 27, 4%), and normal (8 of 27, 30%). There were no muscular dystrophy or spinal muscular atrophy patients. EMG/nerve conduction studies had a 74% agreement with final clinical diagnoses and 100% agreement in neurogenic, neuromuscular junction, and normal categories. Muscle biopsies concurred with final diagnoses in 87%, and 100% in myopathic and normal categories. In congenital myasthenic syndrome, muscle biopsies showed mild variation in fiber size in 2 of 3 children and were normal in 1 of 3. EMG sensitivity for detecting myopathic motor unit potentials in myopathies was 4 of 11 (36%), greater over 2 years of age (3 of 4, 75%), compared to infants less than 2 years (1 of 7, 14%), not statistically significant (P = .0879). EMGs false-negative for myopathy in infants < 2 years of age were frequently neurogenic (3 of 6, 50%). In congenital myopathies EMG detected myopathic motor unit potentials in 40%, with false-negative results neurogenic (20%) or normal (40%). Because our study has no additional tests for active myopathies, for example Duchenne muscular dystrophy genetic testing, our sensitivity for myopathies is lower than if we used a more global view. In conclusion, EMG detection rate of myopathic motor unit potentials at a young age was low, improving in children over 2 years of age. In neurogenic and neuromuscular junction disorders, the EMG has a very high detection rate. In children with mild to moderate neurogenic EMG findings and normal nerve conduction, a myopathy should always be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)803-808
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Child Neurology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Electromyography
  • Muscle biopsy
  • Neuromuscular disorders


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