Background: The head-impulse test, which is sensitive and specific for detecting severe unilateral peripheral vestibulopathy, is an accepted part of the neurological examination, especially in patients with vertigo and balance disorders.
Objective: To discover if the head-impulse test is just as useful diagnostically when patients are asked to rotate their own heads, the active head-impulse test, rather than when the clinician does so as in the standard passive head-impulse test.
Methods: Clinical observation of compensatory saccades and search coil measurement of compensatory eye rotations, during active and passive horizontal head-impulses in 6 patients with total unilateral vestibular deafferentation.
Results: Clinical observation showed the expected compensatory saccades with rotations toward the side with the lesion with passive head-impulses but not with active head-impulses. Search coil recordings revealed 2 reasons for this. With active head-impulses not only was vestibulo-ocular reflex gain higher, but compensatory saccade latency was shorter resulting in an occult saccade that occurred during, rather than after, head rotation.
Conclusions: Passive head-impulses are necessary to detect a severe unilateral peripheral vestibulopathy; active head-impulses will produce a false-negative result.