Objective: To determine the causative factors and epidemiology of bilateral vestibulopathy (BV).
Methods: This is a retrospective review of 255 patients (mean age, 62 +/- 16 years) with BV diagnosed in our dizziness unit between 1988 and 2005. All patients had undergone a standardized neurophthalmological and neurootological examination, electronystagmography with caloric irrigation, cranial magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography (n = 214), and laboratory tests.
Results: Sixty-two percent of the study population were male subjects. Previous vertigo attacks had occurred in 36%, indicating a sequential manifestation. The definite cause of BV was determined in 24% and the probable cause in 25%: The most common causes were ototoxic aminoglycosides (13%), Menière's disease (7%), and meningitis (5%). Strikingly, 25% exhibited cerebellar signs. Cerebellar dysfunction was associated with peripheral polyneuropathy in 32% compared with 18% in BV patients without cerebellar signs. Hypoacusis occurred bilaterally in 25% and unilaterally in 6% of all patients. It appeared most often in patients with BV caused by Cogan's syndrome, meningitis, or Menière's disease.
Interpretation: The cause of BV remains unclear in about half of all patients despite intensive examinations. A large subgroup of these patients have associated cerebellar dysfunction and peripheral polyneuropathy. This suggests a new syndrome that may be caused by neurodegenerative or autoimmune processes.