Bedside diagnosis of vertigo: value of the history and neurological examination

Kathleen A Delaney
Academic Emergency Medicine: Official Journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine 2003, 10 (12): 1388-95
Vertigo is caused by disturbance of the input or central processing of sensory signals from the vestibular apparatus that provide information regarding the position of the body in space. It is caused either by asymmetric disruption of sensory input from the vestibular organs or asymmetric integration of vestibular input into the central nervous system. Vertigo is readily differentiated from other causes of dizziness by a sensation of motion. A crucial aspect of the management of the emergency department patient with vertigo is the differentiation of vertigo associated with acute stroke syndromes from vertigo due to peripheral causes. Routine computerized axial tomography imaging is insensitive for posterior circulation strokes, so for emergency physicians, the history and neurological examination remain the most useful diagnostic tools. This article emphasizes the history and physical examination in the localization of the lesion in patients with vertigo and offers a rational basis for decisions regarding the need for special neurological imaging and consultation. It also emphasizes subtle findings that may prevent the erroneous diagnosis of peripheral vertigo in the presence of an acute stroke syndrome.

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