General vestibular testing

Clin Neurophysiol. 2005 Feb;116(2):406-26. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2004.08.009.


A dysfunction of the vestibular system is commonly characterized by a combination of phenomena involving perceptual, ocular motor, postural, and autonomic manifestations: vertigo/dizziness, nystagmus, ataxia, and nausea. These 4 manifestations correlate with different aspects of vestibular function and emanate from different sites within the central nervous system. The diagnosis of vestibular syndromes always requires interdisciplinary thinking. A detailed history allows early differentiation into 9 categories that serve as a practical guide for differential diagnosis: (1) dizziness and lightheadedness; (2) single or recurrent attacks of vertigo; (3) sustained vertigo; (4) positional/positioning vertigo; (5) oscillopsia; (6) vertigo associated with auditory dysfunction; (7) vertigo associated with brainstem or cerebellar symptoms; (8) vertigo associated with headache; and (9) dizziness or to-and-fro vertigo with postural imbalance. A careful and systematic neuro-ophthalmological and neuro-otological examination is also mandatory, especially to differentiate between central and peripheral vestibular disorders. Important signs are nystagmus, ocular tilt reaction, other central or peripheral ocular motor dysfunctions, or a unilateral or bilateral peripheral vestibular deficit. This deficit can be easily detected by the head-impulse test, the most relevant bedside test for the vestibulo-ocular reflex. Laboratory examinations are used to measure eye movements, to test semicircular canal, otolith, and spatial perceptional function and to determine postural control. It must, however, be kept in mind that all signs and ocular motor and vestibular findings have to be interpreted within the context of the patient's history and a complete neurological examination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Vestibular Function Tests*