in p r a c t i c e
Fitting & Testing
CLINICAL TOPICS IN OTONEUROLOGY
Evaluation and Management of Dizziness
Stephen P. Cass, M.D., M.P.H.
atic version of “best practice” and then to defend it against criticism
Stephen P. Cass, M.D., M.P.H. is Associate Professor in the
from other members of the expert panel and the audience. In this man-
Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Colorado Health
ner, I hoped to identify areas of consensus and to hear various view-
Science Center. He is fellowship trained in Neurotology, specializing in
points in areas of controversy.
disorders of the ear, hearing and balance. His research interest involves
basic and clinical studies of the vestibular system. Dr. Cass is co-author
with Dr. Joseph Furman of Vestibular Disorders, A Case- Study Approach.
Oxford University Press recently published the second edition.
Is there any consensus about the “best way” to evaluate and manage
dizziness? Ask any three clinicians about how and why they do what
they do and you are likely to get three different, often ardent opinions
about the proper way to evaluate and manage dizzy patients. Yet, it is
logical to presume that some clinical approaches may be more effective
and efficient than others. Perhaps if we look carefully at the methods
used by expert clinicians, areas of agreement will surface from the depths
of our habits, idiosyncratic training experiences, and biases. Perhaps
there are essential elements that should form the foundation of a “best
Philip D. Sloane, M.D., M.P.H., Elizabeth and Oscar Goodwin
Distinguished Professor of Family Medicine at the University of North
Carolina, provided a perspective on evaluation and management of the
dizzy patient by a primary care physician.
Dr. Sloane reported that primary care physicians (FP/GP/IM) see the
majority (70-80%) of dizzy patients and manage most of them without
hospitalization or referral to a specialist. By comparison, otolaryngologists see about 6% and neurologists 4% of patients seeking care for
dizziness. Dizziness is a common complaint, especially among the elderly, but it rarely denotes life-threatening or rapidly progressive disease.
While dizziness can result in handicap and diminished quality of life, it
is not a good predictor of mortality.
practice” for evaluating and managing dizziness. Understanding these
Dr. Sloane believes that there are a few sacred cows that deserve to die.
best practices should lead to more accurate and possibly less costly diag-
These include: 1)the specialist knows best; 2) you should differentiate
nosis and more effective management of dizziness.
between “central” and “peripheral” vertigo; 3) a test battery is useful in
To explore this issue, we held a two-day course, “Evaluation and
Management of Dizziness,” on October 11-12, 2002, in Chicago,
working up dizziness; and 4) if you don’t know the diagnosis, give
Illinois. The course was presented by the University of Colorado
Dr. Sloane considers history taking to be the most important part of the
Department of Otolaryngology and sponsored by the Office of
workup. He always asks about the character, onset, severity, and dura-
Continuing Medical Education, University of Colorado School of
tion of the dizziness, precipitating and alleviating factors, associated
Medicine. Educational support was provided by ICS Medical, a GN
symptoms, general health, cardiovascular risk factors, and medications.
Otometrics company. I served as course director.
He finds the diagnostic terminology confusing and diagnostic criteria
The purpose of the course was to examine “best practices” for the evaluation and management of the dizzy patient. I assembled a panel of
expert clinicians—a family physician, two neurotologists, two neurologists, an audiologist, a physical therapist, a psychiatrist, and a medical
practice manager. I asked each expert to set forth an explicit and system-
poorly established for all but a few disorders. The high number of possible diagnoses makes decision-making complex. Because of this, he
believes that the diagnosis of dizziness is not well suited to empiric algorithms, but often requires diagnosis by intuitive hypothesis generation
H e l p i n g
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d e c i s i o n
Dr. Sloane tries to narrow the broad differential diagnosis by distin-
Dr. Sloane also discussed management of the dizzy patient by a family
guishing among four subtypes—presyncope, dysequilibrium, vertigo,
physician and presented his six rules of dizziness management:
and vague dizziness.
Rule 1: Make a diagnosis and treat it appropriately. Dr. Sloane
Presyncope implies a circulatory disorder. Dr. Sloane asks about ane-
reviewed the records of 144 dizzy patients seen by primary care
mia, medications, acute illness, cardiac history and risk factors, pal-
physicians. He found that 34% of these patients had a lab test,
pitations, and vasovagal precipitants.
11% had a major test, and 9% were referred to a specialist.
Treatment consisted of observation in 72% of patients, reassurance
Dysequilibrium implies a neuromuscular disorder. Dr. Sloane asks
in 42%, medication in 61%, and behavior change in 15%. At fol-
about vision, proprioception, history of vertigo, and weakness or
low up six months later, 24% of patients were given a new diagno-
sis and one patient (a very elderly man) had died.
Vertigo implies a vestibular disorder. Dr. Sloane asks about previous
Rule 2: Be on the lookout for treatable conditions. Dr. Sloane listed
episodes, duration of episodes, and provocation with position
sinusitis/otitis media, anxiety/panic disorder, cervical dizziness, pos-
change. Episodic vertigo implies BPPV, Meniere’s disease, or TIAs.
tural dizziness (without orthostatic hypotension), cardiac event,
Continuous vertigo implies a psychophysiologic disorder, stroke,
intracranial aneurysm/evolving stroke, and acoustic neuroma.
cerebellar atrophy, or neurolabyrinthitis.
Rule 3: Tincture of time is often the best management strategy. Dr.
Vague dizziness implies a psychologic disorder, particularly if the
Sloane reviewed the records of 108 patients seen by primary care
patient is young and the symptoms are continuous, associated with
physicians. He found that only 63% of them said dizziness had any
somatic complaints, or worsened by social or visual stimulation.
impact on their daily lives and only 18% of patients said it had a
Dr. Sloane asks about depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and
major impact. Three months later only 28% of patients said dizzi-
associated symptoms or events. He treats with reassurance and
ness had any impact and only 6% said it had a major impact.
Rule 4: Chronic dizziness in older persons is usually multifactorial.
Dr. Sloane discussed three common specific diagnoses—BPPV, cervical
dizziness, and postural dizziness.
Rule 5: Therapeutic exercise works for selected patients. Dr. Sloane
said that vestibular rehabilitation works for patients with chronic
BPPV is common and easily treatable. If Dr. Sloane elicits a history
dizziness with vestibular involvement. Hip, leg, and abdominal
of positional vertigo, he performs a Dix-Hallpike maneuver. If the
strengthening exercises work for patients with deconditioning,
response is positive, he treats immediately with canalith reposition-
frailty, or fear of falling. Brandt-Daroff exercises work for patients
ing. He recognizes that primary care physicians need more up-to-
with acute BPPV.
date training in BPPV to feel comfortable treating it with repositioning maneuvers.
Rule 6: A thoughtful generalist is often better than a specialist. Dr.
Sloane doesn’t often send patients to a specialist (typical referral
Cervical dizziness is caused by two types of pathology—cerebral
rate from PCP to specialist is 5%). When he does, his criteria for
vascular (TIAs of the vertebral artery) and facet joint disease.
referral are (1) a suspicion of progressive or serious disease, (2) a
Postural dizziness is common, especially in the elderly. Dr. Sloane
need for specialized treatment, or (3) a difficult, demanding, frus-
considers the traditional criterion for orthostatic hypotension to be
trating and/or non-improving patient.
too stringent. He treats postural dizziness (whether or not orthostatic hypotension has been proven) by first ruling out treatable cerebrovascular disease, blood or other volume loss, and adrenocortical
Steven D. Rauch, M.D., Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at
insufficiency. Then he discontinues vasodilators and anticholiner-
Harvard University, discussed evaluation of the dizzy patient by a neuro-
gics, hydrates well, and prescribes pressure gradient (Jobst) stock-
ings. He may also medicate with beta blockers, transdermal scopalamine, or fluorocortisone.
Fitting & Testing
Dr. Rauch also emphasizes history taking. He first tries to distinguish
among four types (or “flavors,” as he calls them) of dizziness—near
childhood or adolescent migraine, chronic or progressive motion
syncope, dysequilibrium, psychogenic dizziness, and true vertigo.
intolerance, or anxiety/panic disorder.
Near syncope (the feeling of impending loss of consciousness)
The typical patient with cervical vertigo has “floating” dysequilibri-
implies inadequate cerebral perfusion. Common causes are carotid
um with brief episodes of true vertigo provoked by head-on-body
stenosis, valvular heart disease or arrhythmia, and postural
movement. There is usually a past history of whiplash, cervical disc
hypotension. Dr. Rauch sends patients with near syncope to an
disease, degenerative arthritis, or neck injury.
internist or cardiologist.
Dysequilibrium (the feeling of imbalance or impending fall) can be
divided into two subtypes. The first subtype is gait dysequilibrium,
Timothy C. Hain, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurology at
or a feeling of imbalance that occurs only while standing or walk-
Northwestern University, was scheduled to discuss evaluation of the
ing. This implies a neuromuscular disorder, such as diabetic
dizzy patient by a neurologist. Unfortunately Dr. Hain was unable to
peripheral neuropathy or cerebellar dysfunction. Dr. Rauch sends
appear due to sudden illness, so I delivered his presentation from the
these patients to a neurologist. The second subtype is global
materials he had prepared.
dysequilibrium, or imbalance that is always present (not just while
Dr. Hain spends about 45 minutes with each new dizzy patient. He
standing or walking). These patients may have inner ear or
obtains a complete history that comes largely from an eight-page ques-
neurologic disease. They receive a neurotologic evaluation.
tionnaire filled out by the patient in the waiting room. The question-
Psychogenic dizziness (a “spacey” or “disconnected” feeling without
naire covers present illness, associations (such as position), otologic his-
sensation of motion or loss of balance) implies a psychiatric disor-
tory, social context (such as disability issues), full review of systems
der. Dr. Rauch sends these patients to a psychiatrist, but they
(especially vascular), family history (especially migraine), medications,
receive a neurotologic evaluation as well, since patients with a psy-
and testing to date. Dr. Hain spends about 15 minutes reviewing the
chiatric disorder may also have inner ear disease.
questionnaire with the patient.
True vertigo (the false sense of motion) implies an inner ear disor-
Dr. Hain does a complete neurologic and neurotologic physical exami-
der. Dr. Rauch distinguishes four subtypes of true vertigo. The first
nation, first with the patient standing, then with the patient sitting.
is episodic vertigo accompanied by a hearing loss, which implies
With the patient standing, he does the Romberg test (regular and
Meniere’s disease. The second is episodic vertigo without a hearing
tandem, eyes open and closed) to detect otologic and neurologic
loss, which implies BPPV. (Dr. Rauch said he makes the diagnosis
dysfunction and malingering. Then he asks the patient to stand on
of BPPV from the history alone; he does not perform a Dix-
heels and toes and to perform deep knee bends to detect ataxia due
Hallpike maneuver.) The third is persistent vertigo accompanied by
to weakness and neurologic dysfunction. Then he checks standing
a hearing loss, which implies labyrinthitis. The fourth is persistent
(and later supine) blood pressure and pulse to detect orthostatic
vertigo without a hearing loss, which implies vestibular neuritis.
hypotension and positional orthostatic tachycardia.
This simple classification system makes the correct diagnosis in
60% of patients with true vertigo.
With the patient sitting, he does an otoscopic examination and
tests cranial nerves, upper extremity power, deep tendon reflexes,
Dr. Rauch discussed three disorders that don’t fit into his classification
Babinski signs, vibration at ankle, and cerebellar function to detect
system—dysequilibrium of aging, migraine-associated dizziness, and cer-
gross ear abnormality (such as a tympanic membrane perforation),
neurologic dysfunction, and sensory loss. Then he looks for sponta-
The typical patient with dysequilibrium of aging is an elderly indi-
neous, head shaking-induced, and vibration-induced nystagmus
vidual (usually brought in by adult children) with progressive gait
with the patient wearing Frenzel’s goggles. Then he does the Dix-
instability and advanced multi-system neural deficit.
Hallpike maneuver to detect BPPV.
The typical patient with migraine-associated dizziness is a female
If the patient has a history of pressure sensitivity or ear trauma, Dr.
who usually has a family history of migraine and a past history of
Hain may perform a fistula test or Valsalva. If the patient has presyn-
CLINICAL TOPICS IN OTONEUROLOGY
cope, he may perform a carotid sinus massage. If the patient has dyse-
Audiological tests, such as a pure tone audiogram (very useful), tym-
quilibrium, he may perform the dynamic illegible ‘E’ test to detect bilat-
panometry (useful), acoustic reflexes (rarely useful), ECOG (occa-
eral vestibular loss.
sionally useful), BAER (rarely useful), and OAE (rarely useful).
Dr. Hain divides dizziness diagnoses into six categories, as follows:
Vestibular tests, such as a caloric test (very useful), rotary chair (useful), posturography (occasionally useful), VAT (not useful if rotary
Positional vertigo diagnoses include BPPV, central positional verti-
chair is available), and VEMP (not sure).
go, phobic postural vertigo, low CSF pressure syndrome, orthostatic hypotension, and phobic postural vertigo.
Radiology, such as MRI of brain with gadolinium (often useful),
CT of brain (rarely useful), CT of sinus (rarely, if ever, useful),
Dizziness and headache diagnoses include migraine-associated verti-
x-ray, CT, or MR of neck (sometimes useful), and CT of temporal
go (which afflicts 3.5% of U.S. population and 10% of women of
bone (rarely useful).
childbearing age), Chiari malformation, and cervical vertigo.
Blood tests, such as CBC, fasting glucose, SMA12, FTA, and TSH
Meniere’s disease and related conditions, such as post-traumatic
(rarely useful), B12 (often useful), anti – heat-shock protein (rarely,
hydrops and autoimmune hydrops.
if ever, useful), other autoimmune tests, such as ANA or sed rate
Unilateral and bilateral vestibular loss diagnoses include vestibular
(rarely useful), and paraneoplastic tests (rarely useful).
neuritis, labyrinthitis, acoustic neuroma, and gentamicin
Cardiac tests, such as a tilt table test (rarely useful), EKG (rarely
useful), and event monitoring (occasionally useful).
Pressure sensitivity diagnoses include fistula, superior canal dehis-
Neuropsychiatric tests, such as an MMPI (occasionally useful),
cence, and vestibular fibrosis.
malingering battery (often useful), and cognitive tests (rarely, if
Psychiatric disorder diagnoses include anxiety, somatization, posttraumatic stress, and malingering.
Dr. Hain says he fails to diagnose about 15% of dizzy patients.
Dr. Hain also classifies dizziness diagnoses by duration of the dizziness
Episodes lasting 1 to 5 seconds (which he calls “quick spins”) imply
Neil T. Shepard, Ph.D., Professor of Otolaryngology at the University
BPPV, superior oblique myokymia, seizure disorder, or Meniere’s
of Pennsylvania, discussed the role of audiovestibular tests in the evalua-
disease. Multiple bouts of quick spins (which he calls “vestibular
tion of the dizzy patient.
paroxysma”) imply failed vestibular nerve section or perhaps
Dr. Shepard said that some audiovestibular tests detect lesions and oth-
microvascular compression or viral neuritis.
ers measure functional impairment. These tests rarely make a diagnosis.
Episodes lasting seconds to minutes imply BPPV, arrythmia, orthosta-
They provide information that is useful in making certain diagnoses and
tic hypotension, or Meniere’s disease or its variants.
in monitoring the effects of treatment.
Episodes lasting minutes to hours imply TIAs, Meniere’s disease or its
As the director of a Balance Center, Dr. Shepard receives referrals for
variants, migraine-associated dizziness, or orthostatic hypotension.
general “audiovestibular testing,” and he decides which particular tests
are indicated. The tests that he performs and their indications are as
Episodes lasting days or longer imply migraine-associated dizziness,
stroke, brain tumor, sensory ataxias, vestibular neuritis or
An audiometric evaluation provides information required for mak-
labyrinthitis, functional syndromes, or drug reactions.
ing many diagnoses of peripheral vestibular disorders. It is indicatIf history and physical examination fail to yield a diagnosis, Dr. Hain
may order laboratory tests, as follows:
Fitting & Testing
ed for virtually every dizzy patient.
ABR is useful for detecting brain stem or cerebellopontine angle
Lorne S. Parnes, M.D., Professor of Otolaryngology and Clinical
lesions if MRI is unavailable.
Neurology at the University of Western Ontario, discussed management
ECOG detects abnormal cochlear mechanics. It is indicated when
the diagnosis of Meniere’s disease is being considered.
of the dizzy patient by a neurotologist.
Dr. Parnes sees about 15 new dizzy patients per week in his clinic in
London, Ontario. The average waiting period for an initial office visit is
ENG (or VNG) is a battery of eye movement tests that detects and
localizes a variety of vestibular and non-vestibular lesions in the
peripheral and central nervous system. Most useful is the caloric
test, which detects lesions of the horizontal semicircular canal and
six months. All new dizzy patients (except those with the complaint of
positional vertigo) receive an audiogram and ENG before he sees them.
Dr. Parnes does not have access to rotational chair testing or posturography in his center.
its afferent pathways. Dix-Hallpike maneuver makes the diagnosis
of BPPV. (The torsional component of the BPPV response can be
He treats vestibular neuronitis and labyrinthitis symptomatically with
observed using Frenzel’s goggles or recorded on video.) Either ENG
antiemetics and vestibular sedatives. Since there is good evidence that
or VNG is indicated for virtually every dizzy patient.
oral steroids are effective, he treats with oral steroids if he sees the
patient within 72 hours after onset of acute vertigo. (He said there is no
Clinical Test of Sensory Interaction of Balance (CTSIB), also known
evidence that anti-virals are efficacious.)
as the “foam and dome” test, detects a variety of balance disorders.
It is indicated for virtually every dizzy patient.
He provides surgical treatment, if indicated, for BPPV, Meniere’s disease,
chronic otitis media, cholesteatoma, acoustic neuroma and other tempo-
Rotational chair detects vestibular dysfunction. It is indicated when
ral bone tumors, perilymph fistula, otosclerosis, vascular compression
ENG is normal, when there is a compensated unilateral or bilateral
syndrome, and superior semicircular canal dehiscence.
caloric weakness, or when a baseline is needed prior to serial monitoring.
Posturography detects a variety of balance disorders. It is indicated
when CTSIB is abnormal, when the patient complains of unsteadiness without vertigo, or when there is known or suspected pathology involving postural control pathways.
Dr. Parnes described his treatment for BPPV in detail, as follows:
Most cases of BPPV arise from free-floating particles in the
endolymph of the posterior semicircular canal. Dr. Parnes performs
the Dix-Hallpike maneuver to identify the affected canal, then he
treats with canalith repositioning. His success rate after a single
treatment is 80%. If the patient still has BPPV at the next visit,
Postural evoked responses are indicated when the patient complains
he repeats the treatment. His success rate after three treatments
of unsteadiness during standing or walking or when response laten-
cies to backward sway on posturography are abnormal.
Dr. Parnes treats intractable BPPV with posterior semicircular canal
Vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (VEMP) detect and lateralize
lesions of the saccule. This test is indicated when the patient complains of linear vection, when caloric asymmetry is greater than
30%, when there is a bilateral caloric weakness. It is also performed
prior to transtympanic gentamicin treatment or surgical removal of
CPA mass lesions.
Subjective visual vertical and ocular counter roll detect utricular dysfunction. One or the other of these tests is performed prior to
occlusion. He has performed this operation on 42 patients (in both
ears of two patients). BPPV was completely relieved in every case.
One patient had a hearing loss with vertigo three months after surgery. Six patients had protracted periods of imbalance after surgery
and one patient developed horizontal canal BPPV. He has seen
free-floating particles in 11 of 36 operated ears.
Dr. Parnes also described his treatment for Meniere’s disease in detail, as
transtympanic gentamicin treatment. The subjective visual vertical
His treatments for Meniere’s disease include low salt diet, avoidance
test is insensitive to chronic utricular lesions.
of caffeine, nicotine, and stress, diuretics, benzodiazepines, antihistamines, histamine (betahistine), vasodilators, and corticosteroids.
CLINICAL TOPICS IN OTONEUROLOGY
If these treatments fail, Dr. Parnes treats with intratympanic gen-
the upright position. Central disorders, such as posterior fossa tumors
tamicin titration. He injects 1 ml of 40 mg/ml stock IV gentamicin
and infarction, Chiari malformation, cerebellar degeneration, and multi-
solution through a myringotomy once a week. Treatments are dis-
ple sclerosis, can also cause positional vertigo, but the vertigo is usually
continued if the audiogram shows a significant hearing drop for
persistent and mild.
two successive weeks, if a new onset of persistent dizziness or
imbalance occurs, if a new onset of spontaneous or head-shake
nystagmus occurs, or when four treatments have been given.
This treatment yields excellent control of vertigo and a low
incidence of hearing loss (and no cases of severe hearing loss), and
does not preclude further treatment if it fails.
The complaint of disequilibrium without vertigo implies a bilateral
vestibular loss (cisplatin or gentamicin), peripheral neuropathy (diabetes), a spinal cord dorsal column lesion (compressive, B12 deficiency,
syphilis), cerebellar atrophy, white matter disease, normal pressure
hydrocephalus, or an extrapyramidal disorder (Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy).
Central nervous system dysfunction is implied by physical examination
David Solomon, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Neurology at the
findings of direction changing or purely vertical nystagmus, sustained or
University of Pennsylvania, discussed management of the dizzy patient
non-fatigable positional nystagmus, disconjugate nystagmus, abnormal
by a neurologist.
posture when seated, inability to stand, focal motor deficit, dysarthria,
Dr. Solomon said that he sees dizzy patients with a variety of diseases,
neurologic and non-neurologic, so the first step is to determine the
cause of dizziness through history, physical examination, and laboratory
dysphagia, diplopia, limb ataxia, Horner’s syndrome, loss of pin prick or
temperature sensation on one side of face and/or on the other side of the
body, or intractable hiccups.
Central nervous system dysfunction is implied by ENG findings of
The complaint of presyncope implies insufficient central nervous system
blood flow. Common causes are hyperventilation, orthostatic hypoten-
defective saccades, pursuit, or gaze holding. Spontaneous nystagmus
with normal calorics suggests (but does not prove) central dysfunction.
sion, vasovagal attacks, decreased cardiac output (arrhythmia, myocardial
The patient’s history may indicate additional testing—cardiac event
infarction, congestive heart failure, aortic stenosis), anxiety or panic dis-
monitoring and ECG, fingerstick glucose monitoring when sympto-
orders, hypoglycemia, and drug toxicity (alcohol, barbiturates, benzodi-
matic, ambulatory EEG, tilt table testing, and EMG/nerve conduction
azepines, anticonvulsants, and cardiovascular drugs). Non-specific dizzi-
studies. A woman with progressive cerebellar symptoms must receive a
ness is also part of postconcussion syndrome.
mammogram and gynecological examination.
The complaint of vertigo implies either peripheral or central nervous
An emergent image must be obtained when a patient has acute vertigo
system disease. Peripheral disorders, though debilitating, are generally
and one or more of the following—other brainstem or cerebellar symp-
benign, whereas some central disorders require urgent intervention or
toms, direction changing spontaneous nystagmus, acute onset of vertigo
intensive care unit monitoring. Acute labyrinthine lesions typically pres-
accompanied by neck pain, new onset of severe headache, inability to
ent with intense vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and direction fixed horizon-
stand or walk, asymmetric or unilateral hearing loss, or stroke risk fac-
tal nystagmus that is reduced or eliminated by visual fixation with grad-
tors (diabetes, hypertension, history of myocardial infarction).
ual improvement over a period of three days. Any deviation from this
pattern suggests a central lesion. Recurrent attacks of vertigo may be due
to Meniere’s disease, migraine, or vertebrobasilar transient ischemia
(brainstem or labyrinthine). A single attack of vertigo that lasts more
than 24 hours may be due to posterior circulation infarction, cerebellar
or brainstem hemorrhage, or multiple sclerosis. Positional vertigo due to
Cerebellar diseases include infarction, hemorrhage, tumor, Chiari malformation, multiple sclerosis, hereditary and acquired cerebellar degenerations, paraneoplastic syndrome, medications and toxins (alcohol, anticonvulsants, lithium, organic solvents), vitamin E deficiency, and acute
BPPV is characterized by short latency, duration less than one minute,
Signs of cerebellar disease are gaze-evoked nystagmus, rebound nystagmus,
fatigability, and nystagmus in the opposite direction upon returning to
downbeat nystagmus, alternating skew deviation, saccadic dysmetria,
Fitting & Testing
saccadic oscillations (flutter and macro square-wave jerks), positional
Vertebrobasilar disease is a common cause of dizziness. The vertebrobasi-
vertigo (not fitting BPPV), oscillopsia, gait ataxia, positive Romberg
lar system supplies not only the brainstem and cerebellum, but also the
with eyes open, defective pursuit, tremor, dysarthria, and limb ataxia.
Hereditary cerebellar ataxia syndromes of various types have been identi-
Vertebrobasilar insufficiency presents initially as attacks of vertigo in
fied and at least 8 different genetic loci have been implicated.
25% of patients and most patients will experience vertigo during an
Unfortunately, only supportive care is available. Some patients with
attack at some time. These attacks usually have sudden onset and last
inherited ataxia have metabolic errors that can be identified and treated.
for several minutes.Vertigo is nearly always accompanied by other
Arnold Chiari malformation (Type 1) is characterized by unexplained
sensorineural hearing loss, headache, vertigo, ataxia, dysequilibrium,
dysphagia or other lower cranial nerve dysfunction. Gaze-evoked nystagmus, downbeat nystagmus, and defective pursuit are typical ocular
motor findings. Treatment is with suboccipital decompression of the
brainstem or visual complaints (visual loss, diplopia, inversion of the
environment, drop attacks, limb ataxia, mental status change, dysarthria
or focal sensory or motor dysfunction). When vertebrobasilar insufficiency is first suspected, the patient is treated with daily aspirin and
attention to risk factors. If episodes persist, aspirin /dipyridamole or
clopidogrel may be substituted. If significant stenosis is found or
episodes are frequent and disabling, treatment is anticoagulation with
Migraine is present in about 11 million Americans, with 18% of females
heparin followed by wayfarin, titrating to an international normalized
and 6% of males affected. Peak age is 30-45 years. In patients meeting
ratio of 2-3.
strict diagnostic criteria, less than half were given the diagnosis of
migraine by a physician. Acute attacks usually last minutes to hours,
seldom more than 24 hours. They usually occur immediately before or
during the headache, but may occur without headache. Migraine
may be indistinguishable from Meniere’s disease, except that accompanying hearing loss is uncommon. Treatment is both behavioral and
pharmacological. Behavioral treatment includes regular sleep patterns,
stress reduction, migraine diet (avoiding chocolate, cheese, red wine),
and eliminating caffeine and habitual analgesic use. Pharmacological
treatment to abort attacks includes combinations of caffeine, aspirin,
acetaminophen and butalbital or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
(such as ibuprofen or naproxyn sodium). Prophylactic treatments
include beta blockers (propranolol), tricyclic antidepressants (nortripty-
Lateral medullary syndrome (or Wallenberg’s syndrome) is caused by
occlusion of the posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA). This artery
supplies the dorsal lateral medullary plate and portions of the posterior
medial cerebellum. Occlusion of the PICA at its origin causes the fullblown syndrome—vertigo, spontaneous nystagmus, skew deviation,
altered subjective visual vertical, ipsilateral limb ataxia, ipsilateral facial
hemianesthesia, ipsilateral Horner’s syndrome, ipsilateral cord paresis,
ipsilateral gag, ipsilateral palatal weakness, gait ipsipulsion, saccade
ipsipulsion, and contralateral body pain and temperature sensory loss.
Occlusion of distal branches of PICA can produce a syndome—vertigo,
dysequilibrium, and spontaneous nystagmus—that mimics a
line), calcium channel blockers, and valproic acid. Acetazolamide and
Pontine syndrome is caused by occlusion of the anterior inferior cerebellar
other anticonvulsants have also been used.
artery (AICA). This artery supplies the lateral pons and part of the mid-
Multiple sclerosis typically begins between 20-40 years of age. It usually
presents with optic neuritis, but presents with vertigo in 5% of patients.
Vertigo is a symptom sometime during the course of the disease in
about 50% of patients. Bilateral internuclear ophthalmoplegia is the
hallmark of multiple sclerosis, but various types of central nystagmus
may also be seen. An attack of multiple sclerosis may mimic a peripheral
dle cerebellar peduncle, as well as giving off the internal auditory artery,
which provides exclusive blood supply to the inner ear. Occlusion of the
AICA causes vertigo, nystagmus, ipsilateral tinnitus, ipsilateral hearing
loss, ipsilateral gait and limb ataxia, ipsilateral facial hemianesthesia, ipsilateral facial paralysis, ipsilateral Horner’s syndrome, and contralateral
hemibody sensory loss.
vestibular lesion with a unilateral caloric weakness. An IV pulse of
Cerebellar infarction sometimes occurs without brainstem involvement.
high-dose steroids may shorten an attack. Acquired pendular nystagmus
Since brainstem signs are absent, a mistaken diagnosis of labyrinthine
may respond to gabapentin. Vertical nystagmus may respond to
pathology might be made. Key differentiating findings are gaze-evoked
gabapentin or baclofen.
or vertical nystagmus and ipsilateral extremity and gait ataxia. A cerebel-
CLINICAL TOPICS IN OTONEUROLOGY
lar infarction may affect only the inferior and medial cerebellum, caus-
Epileptic vertigo is very uncommon. It is characterized by episodes of ver-
ing nystagmus without ataxia, or it may affect only the cerebellar hemi-
tigo lasting minutes, sometimes with associated ictal nystagmus, dyspha-
spheres, causing ataxia without nystagmus.
gia, amnesia, disorientation, and visual field abnormalities.
Microvascular compression of the 8th nerve is a controversial diagnosis.
Typical symptoms are episodes of vertigo induced by a particular head
position, but there are no signs or symptoms that specifically define the
Susan L. Whitney, Ph.D., PT, NCS, ATC, Associate Professor of
Physical Therapy at the University of Pittsburgh, discussed management
of the dizzy patient by a physical therapist.
Vascular malformations occur in 3-7% of the population. They may
cause symptoms, including vertigo, due to mass effect or hemorrhage.
Dr. Whitney said the goals of vestibular physical therapy are to optimize
function, decrease dizziness, improve balance and the ability to walk,
Neoplastic diseases include:
decrease fear and anxiety, prevent falls, increase gait speed, decrease stiff-
Infratentorial ependylmomas arise from the lining of the fourth
ness, and improve the patient’s ability to perform daily activities.
ventricle. Protracted nausea and vomiting are often present, and
These goals are accomplished by increasing VOR gain, gait retraining,
the classical headache is positional, with pain present while supine
strengthening muscles, increasing range of motion, improving proprio-
and relieved by sitting up.
ception, habituation, patient education, and prescribing assistive devices.
Brainstem gliomas may occur at any age, but are most common in
Patients are screened for physical therapy with the Dizziness Handicap
children. Cerebellar signs, trigeminal and lower cranial nerve
Inventory, the Activities-specific Balance Confidence Scale, and the sit-
involvement occurs. In children, medulloblatoma may cause
to-stand test. These self-report instruments are useful to assess the severi-
non-fatiguing paroxysmal positional nystagmus, which is usually
ty of symptoms and to monitor outcomes.
purely vertical and accompanied by vertigo and generalized
Vestibular physical therapy should be performed by physical and occu-
pational therapists with special interest and knowledge in vestibular
Vestibular schwannoma (or acoustic neuroma) account for 85-90%
physical therapy. Many of these therapists are members of the Vestibular
of all schwannomas. Presentation of vestibular schwannomas
Special Interest Group in the Neurology Section of the American
is usually insidious, with unilateral progressive hearing loss and
Physical Therapy Association.
vestibular loss (without vertigo). Tinnitus, headache, mastoid pain,
Candidates for vestibular physical therapy are patients with peripheral
facial weakness or otalgia may be present.
vestibular disorders, bilateral vestibular disorders, combined peripheral
Paraneoplastic disease occurs when an immune response is triggered by a
and central vestibular disorders, central vestibular disorders, surgical
tumor that is usually remote from the nervous system. Anti-Yo antibod-
removal of acoustic neuroma or labyrinthectomy, multisensory dysequi-
ies cause a loss of Purkinje cells in the cerebellum, resulting in a syn-
librium, cerebellar disorders, BPPV, labyrinthine concussion, cervical
drome of ataxia, dysarthria, and nystagmus. This may be the presenting
vertigo, Meniere’s disease, migraine, multiple sclerosis, mal de debarque-
picture, and when antibodies are detected, a search for the tumor must
ment syndrome, panic disorder, vertebrobasilar insufficiency, fear of
then be initiated.
movement, or falling.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is caused by thiamine deficiency. Signs include
Patients who have had vestibular physical therapy have more confidence,
vertical nystagmus, gaze-evoked nystagmus, and bilateral abducens
more awareness of their limitations and abilities, less dizziness, more
palsies. Ataxia and mental changes are usually present also. Signs may
energy, better balance, ability to walk faster and safer, less fear,
reverse within hours of thiamine administration.
fewer falls, and more strength. They feel that they have more control
Normal pressure hydrocephalus is characterized by dementia, incontinence
over their lives, that they are not crazy, and that there are others “just
and a gait disorder.
Fitting & Testing
Rolf Jacob, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Otolaryngology at the
likely to manifest panic disorder with agoraphobic avoidance or with
University of Pittsburgh, discussed management of the dizzy patient by
height phobia. In these patients, as well as patients with solely uncom-
pensated vestibular dysfunction, certain situations (e.g. malls, supermar-
Dr. Jacob disagrees with the traditional criteria for psychogenic dizziness—vague description of symptoms, exacerbation of symptoms in cer-
kets, moving visual scenes) result in increased symptoms. Dr. Jacob refers
to this situational pattern of symptoms as space and motion discomfort.
tain environments, reproduction of symptoms by hyperventilation, and
Patients with Unremitting Symptoms. Riding a roller coaster is an experi-
normal physical exam. He said that while dizziness can be a symptom of
ence many individuals choose to have. The situation for the patient with
panic or anxiety disorder, dizziness without other psychiatric symptoms
unremitting symptoms, however, can be compared to a roller coaster
is insufficient for the diagnosis of psychiatric disease. Vestibular symp-
ride infinite in duration. Besides anxiety and space and motion discom-
toms can exacerbate panic or anxiety disorders. Vestibular symptoms can
fort, these patients develop psychiatric problems that are related to the
also cause anxiety, decreased ability to concentrate, depression, social
disability due to dizziness. Dr. Jacob uses the syndrome of mal de debar-
withdrawal, and anger in patients without psychiatric disease.
quement as a prototype for patients with continuous symptoms. Dr.
Dr. Jacob explained that certain anxiety symptoms of psychiatric interest
occur in all patients, whereas a subset of symptoms appear to be specific
for the patient with unremitting severe dizziness or imbalance, and the
neurophysiological correlates of the vestibular dysfunction-anxiety link
have only recently been understood.
Jacob told us that among such patients responding to a survey on the
Internet, the most common psychiatric symptoms were fatigue, problems concentrating, anxiety, memory problems, and depression. Dr.
Jacob explained that patients with chronic dizziness have to deploy
attention to maintain balance similar to what is required from normal
subjects under demanding balance conditions. This results in difficulty
Anxiety symptoms—both somatic and cognitive—are perhaps the most
maintaining attention on tasks that require planning, difficulty remem-
important psychiatric complication of vestibular dysfunction. There is a
bering things, a subjective sense of one’s mind seeming foggy (“brain
high prevalence of anxiety symptoms in vestibular patients. For example,
fog”), and feeling spacy. In addition, persistent attentional demands can
in Dr. Jacob’s setting, 1/3 of consecutive (i.e., unselected) patients with
lead to fatigue, a common complaint among these patients.
vestibular dysfunction had anxiety symptoms qualifying as panic attacks
on a questionnaire assessment. In patients with anxiety disorders,
vestibular abnormalities have been correlated with the presence of symptoms of agoraphobia, space and motion discomfort and dizziness
between panic attacks.
Depression. Trouble concentrating, poor sleep, and fatigue can also be
symptoms of another psychiatric consequence of persistent symptoms—
depression. This disorder is also characterized by dysphoric mood, loss
of interest in things previously enjoyed, poor appetite, and death wishes
that can culminate in suicidal ideation. One source of depression is the
The sources for primary anxiety (somatic symptoms, autonomic symp-
very realistic practical restrictions on lifestyle experienced by the
toms) in vestibular patients include the “hardwired” direct linkage and
patients, restrictions that deprive them from the rewards of everyday life,
the immediate somatopsychic response to the somatic and autonomic
including employment, household chores and recreational activities.
symptoms. Thus, anxiety is a component of the symptomatic response
to vestibular dysfunction just as heart palpitations are part of an integrated response to physical exercise. The sources of secondary anxieties
(e.g., “What if….?”) are more diverse and include concerns over future
attacks of vertigo, dizziness or panic, possible social consequences (e.g.,
embarrassment), medical illness (e.g., “I have a brain tumor.”), mental
illness (e.g., “I feel like I am going crazy.”), and disability.
Like secondary anxiety, depression is in part related to the patient’s
thinking behavior. The depressed individual engages in ruminative
thoughts. Depressive thoughts can be identified by their characteristic
“if only” verbal structure, e.g., “If only the doctor could find out
why I have these symptoms”. Pervading the state of mind of a depressed
person is a sense of hopelessness, bitterness, and demoralization.
Alternatively, the depressed state can be conceptualized as sadness over
Dr. Jacob explained that there is a subset of patients with both panic
the loss of previous function and the change this implies for future
disorder and vestibular dysfunction. These patients may have symptoms
possibilities, and the necessary deviation from the patient’s anticipated
of vestibular dysfunction occurring between panic attacks and are more
CLINICAL TOPICS IN OTONEUROLOGY
Social Withdrawal. Dr. Jacob reported that studies on patients with bal-
this will require increase in the amount of time spent with the patient
ance disorders often reveal social anxiety and social phobia to be among
beyond the usual tight clinical time schedule.
the most prevalent complications. For patients with active symptoms
of imbalance, social fears provide reasons for avoiding public places in
addition to space and motion discomfort already discussed. Besides
social anxiety, social withdrawal is the end result of a number of influ-
Karen Zupko, a practice management consultant and President
of KarenZupko & Associates, Inc., discussed the art and science of
ences. For example, in the case that the patient is unable to maintain
Ms. Zupko said that certain audiological tests, known as the “balance
employment, the resulting change in social network naturally results in
testing package,” are commonly performed during the evaluation of the
restrictions in social activities.
dizzy patient (ICD-9 780.4).
Anger and Clinician Dismissive Behaviors. In the case of acute illness, the
Most insurance carriers cover four tests—comprehensive audio-
patient’s illness behavior is usually complemented by the clinician’s
gram (92557), tympanogram (92567), acoustic reflex testing
treatment behavior, such that the latter leads to a reduction in the
(92568 or 92569), and auditory brainstem response (92585).
former. Treatment behaviors include the clinician showing interest in the
Documentation requirements include a diagnostic audiological
problem, performing appropriate assessments, in due course providing
examination report (by a physician, not an audiologist), a physi-
physical explanation for the patient’s symptoms, and proceeding with
cian’s order, a consultation report related to hearing problems, a
appropriate treatment (an approximate index of treatment behavior
diagnosis, patient history and physical information, and any
is the amount of time spent with the patient). When the clinician’s
additional diagnostic studies that support and justify the need for
behavior does not conform to these norms, the patient will increase his
diagnostic audiology tests. These are bilateral CPT codes, which
or her illness behavior. This tends to manifest as increased or more
means that if only one ear is tested, the modifier –52 (for reduced
persistent symptom report and displays of anger. The clinician behaviors
services) must be submitted.
that tend to have this effect can best be described as “clinician’s dismisENG (92541-92545) is also covered by most insurance carriers.
Caloric irrigation (92543) should be reported four times or with a
Dr. Jacob told us that outrage over clinician’s dismissive behaviors can be
“4” in the units box.
discerned in close to 50% (9/19) of the autobiographical reports published on the Web site for mal de debarquement. One form of dismissive behavior occurs when the patient has been evaluated and no traditional “treatable” cause identified. Associated with the “good news” that
no invasive treatments are needed comes the implication that the
patient’s vestibular problem is minor. Another form is failure to even
recognize a problem. Insult is added to injury when suggestions are
made that the problem might be “mental.”
ECOG (92584) may also be covered.
Officials at HCFA and Medicare are undecided about whether to
require Medicare intermediaries to pay for posturography tests
(92548). As a consequence, intermediaries in at least 35% of the
50 U.S. states are refusing to pay and private insurance companies
have followed suit. The same is true for the sinusoidal rotational
chair test (92546).
The opposite of dismissive treatment behaviors is validating treatment
behaviors. Such behaviors include: (a) recognizing the patient’s symptoms even if they do not fit a predetermined pattern; (b) educating the
patients about the manifestations of vestibular dysfunction beyond vertigo, such as those discussed in this course; (c) recognizing that unknown
Patients with balance disorders and dizziness may be referred to
physical and occupational therapy. Many of these patients may
have developed secondary symptoms, such as decreased strength,
loss of range of motion, muscle fatigue, and headaches.
etiology does not imply psychiatric etiology; (d) recognizing that psychi-
Canalith repositioning can be billed under the unlisted procedure
atric symptoms can occur secondarily to vestibular dysfunction. All of
Fitting & Testing
Summary and Conclusions
More than 100 health care professionals—mostly
vestibular system. This sometimes yields a definite diagno-
otolaryngologists, neurologists, audiologists, and physical
sis, but more often it yields a list of possible diagnoses, and
therapists—attended the course. At the end, they made
to distinguish among them, we may need additional infor-
many positive comments and gave us the highest ratings I
mation provided by laboratory tests, or an empiric trial of
have ever seen for a CME course. I wish to thank the
therapy. In the end, a significant number of patients will
speakers for their enthusiasm and hard work and ICS
remain undiagnosed but do need to be treated.
Medical for its generous support.
We agreed that it would not be useful to order every test
What did we learn from the course? I think we learned that
for every patient, but there was no clear consensus about
there isn’t much controversy about management, but lots of
which tests should be ordered for which patients. Basic
controversy about evaluation. Most dizzy patients have
audiometry studies were deemed valuable and cost-effec-
benign disorders that can be successfully managed by the
tive, and MRI imaging studies important when CNS
family physician with the “tincture of time,” but a few
abnormalities were suspected based on the history and
dizzy patients have serious disorders, and distinguishing
physical exam. Certainly, the value of vestibular
between benign and serious disorders is sometimes difficult.
testing was greater for the specialist than the primary care
There appear to be two key decision points in the evalua-
physician, and it was rare for the diagnosis to depend
tion process: (1) the decision of the family physician to
exclusively on the results of vestibular laboratory testing.
refer to a specialist, and (2) the decision of the specialist to
order laboratory testing.
What’s next? We plan to pursue these issues in a second
course in Chicago, June 25-26, 2004. The course will
It is a fact of life that most dizzy patients see a primary care
be titled, “Best Practices for the Evaluation and
physician first. Dr. Sloane, the family physician on our
Management of Dizziness: A Workshop with Leading
panel, told us that he would send a dizzy patient to a spe-
Clinicians.” I hope you will join us.
cialist if (1) he thought the patient needed specialized treatment, (2) he suspected that the patient had serious disease,
or (3) the patient made a fuss. These criteria generated lots
of discussion. There was no consensus about which clinical
observations the primary care physician should be expected
Visit www.bsure4balance.com for information on the June
to make and which findings should trigger a referral.
Most of us agreed that the specialist who accepts dizzy
patient referrals should be prepared to take a comprehensive history and perform a targeted but thorough physical
examination, as described by Dr. Hain and Dr. Solomon.
The bedside evaluation is essential to determine the physiologic status of both the sensory and motor aspects of the
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