Prospective study of positional nystagmus in 100 consecutive patients

Pierre Bertholon, Stephane Tringali, Mamadou B Faye, Jean Christophe Antoine, Christian Martin
Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology 2006, 115 (8): 587-94

OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to investigate the various diagnoses of patients who present with positional nystagmus.

METHODS: Positional maneuvers were systematically performed in the plane of the posterior canal (PC; Dix-Hallpike maneuver) and the horizontal canal (HC; patients were rolled to either side in a supine position) on 490 consecutive patients essentially referred for vertigo and/or gait unsteadiness.

RESULTS: One hundred patients (20%) presented positional nystagmus. This nystagmus had a peripheral origin in 83 patients, including 80 patients with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). In BPPV, the PC was involved in 61 patients, the HC in 18 patients (geotropic horizontal nystagmus in 11 and ageotropic in 7; changing from geotropic to ageotropic or the reverse in 4 patients), and both the PC and HC in 1 patient. There was evidence of central positional nystagmus in 12 patients, including positional downbeat nystagmus during the Dix-Hallpike maneuver in 7 patients with various neurologic disorders, and ageotropic horizontal nystagmus during the HC maneuver in 2 patients with, respectively, cerebellar ischemia and definite migrainous vertigo. The peripheral or central origin of the positional nystagmus could not be ascertained in 5 patients, including 1 patient with probable migrainous vertigo and another with possible anterior canal BPPV.

CONCLUSIONS: A rotatory-upbeat nystagmus in the context of PC BPPV, a horizontal nystagmus, whether geotropic or ageotropic, due to HC BPPV, and a positional downbeat nystagmus related to various central disorders are the 3 most common types of positional nystagmus. Geotropic horizontal positional nystagmus and, most certainly, horizontal positional nystagmus changing from geotropic to ageotropic or the reverse point to HC BPPV. In contrast, an ageotropic horizontal positional nystagmus that is not changing (from ageotropic to geotropic) may indicate a central lesion.

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