Objective: To evaluate the utilization of laboratory testing in the diagnosis of cerebellar ataxia, including the completeness of initial standard testing for acquired causes, the early use of genetic testing, and associated clinical and nonclinical factors, among a cohort referred for subspecialty consultation.
Methods: Data were abstracted from records of 95 consecutive ataxia patients referred to one neurogenetics subspecialist from 2006-2010 and linked to publicly available data on characteristics of referral clinicians. Multivariable logistic and linear regression models were used to analyze unique associations of clinical and nonclinical factors with laboratory investigation of acquired causes and with early genetic testing prior to referral.
Results: At referral, 27 of 95 patients lacked evidence of any of 14 laboratory studies suggested for initial work-up of an acquired cause for ataxia (average number of tests=4.5). In contrast, 92% of patients had undergone brain magnetic resonance imaging prior to referral. Overall, 41.1% (n=39) had genetic testing prior to referral; there was no association between family history of ataxia and obtaining genetic testing prior to referral (p=0.39). The level of early genetic testing was 31.6%, primarily due to genetic testing despite an incomplete laboratory evaluation for acquired causes and no family history. A positive family history was consistently associated with less extensive laboratory testing (p=0.004), and referral by a neurologist was associated with higher levels of early genetic testing.
Conclusions: Among consecutive referrals to a single center, a substantial proportion of sporadic cases had genetic testing without evidence of a work-up for acquired causes. Better strategies to guide decision making and subspecialty referrals in rare neurologic disorders are needed, given the cost and consequences of genetic testing.