- Perception of movement (rotational or otherwise) where no movement exists
- Mismatch or asymmetric activity of visual, vestibular, and/or proprioceptive systems
- Must distinguish peripheral from central cause
- Peripheral: 8th CN, vestibular apparatus
- Central: Brainstem, cerebellum
Central vs. Peripheral Causes of Vertigo
|Onset||Sudden||Sudden or slow|
|Severity||Intense spinning||Ill defined, less intense|
|Aggravated by position/movement||Yes||Variable|
|Nystagmus||Horizontal and unidirectional||Vertical and/or multidirectional|
|Fatigue of symptoms/signs||Yes||No|
|Hearing loss/tinnitus||May occur||Does not occur|
|Abnormal tympanic membrane||May occur||Does not occur|
|CNS symptoms/signs||Absent||Usually present|
- Glucose check
- Full neuro exam
- TM exam
- CTA or MRA (diagnostic study of choice) of the neck/brain if symptoms consistent with central cause
|CT non con||26%|
The 3 components of the HINTS exam include:
- Head impulse test of vestibulo-ocular reflex function
- Observation for nystagmus in primary, right, and left gaze
- Alternate cover test for skew deviation.
Head Impulse Test:
- Normally, a functional vestibular system will identify any movement of the head position and rapidly correct eye movement accordingly so that the center of the vision remains on a target. This reflex fails in peripheral causes of vertigo effective the vestibulocochlear nerve
- Have patient fix their eyes on your nose
- Move their head in the horizontal plane to the left and righ
- When the head is turned towards the normal side the vestibular ocular reflex remains intact and eyes continue to fixate on the visual target
- When the head is turned towards the affected side, the vestibular ocular reflex fails and the eyes make a corrective saccade to re-fixate on the visual target 
- It is reassuring if the reflex is abnormal (due to dysfunction of the peripheral nerve)
Test of Skew
- Skew deviation is a fairly specific predictor of brainstem involvement in patients with acute vestibular syndrome. The presence of skew may help identify stroke when a positive head impulse test falsely suggests a peripheral lesion.
- Skew is also known vertical dysconjugate gaze and is a sign of a central lesion
- Have pt look at your nose with their eyes and then cover one eye
- Then rapidly uncover the eye and quickly look to see if the eye moves to re-align.
- Repeat with on each eye
- A positive HINTS exam: 100% sensitive and 96% specific for the presence of a central lesion.
- The HINTS exam was more sensitive than general neurological signs: 100% versus 51%.
- The sensitivity of early MRI with DWI for lateral medullary or pontine stroke was lower than that of the HINTS examination (72% versus 100%, P=0.004) with comparable specificity (100% versus 96%, P=1.0).
- If any of the above 3 tests are consistent with CVA obtain full work-up (including MRI)
- Antihistamines: inhibit vestibular stimulation and vestibular-cerebellar pathways
- Scopolamine transdermal patch 0.5mg (behind ear) QID
- Metoclopramide 10-20 IV or PO TID
- Epley maneuver (see BPPV)
- R/O CVA
- R/O Vascular insufficiency
- Most patients with peripheral vertigo can be discharged home
- All patients with central vertigo require urgent imaging and consultation while in the ED
- Chalela JA, Kidwell CS, Nentwich LM, et al. Magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography in emergency assessment of patients with suspected acute stroke: a prospective comparison. Lancet. 2007;369:293–8.
- Barraclough K, Bronstein A. Vertigo. BMJ. 2009;339:b3493
- Kuo CH, Pang L, Chang R. Vertigo - part 1 - assessment in general practice. Aust Fam Physician. 2008;37(5):341-7