The role of MR imaging in investigating isolated pediatric nystagmus

Pediatr Radiol. 2016 Nov;46(12):1721-1727. doi: 10.1007/s00247-016-3669-9. Epub 2016 Aug 12.


Background: The use of MRI in isolated pediatric nystagmus remains a gray area in clinical management. Many clinicians prefer to order an MRI to rule out intracranial pathology despite the lack of clinically significant findings in most cases.

Objective: To assess the yield of MR imaging in isolated pediatric nystagmus and define a management algorithm to minimize avoidable MRI referrals and streamline MRI protocols.

Materials and methods: We reviewed the charts of 148 children who underwent neuro MRI for isolated nystagmus between January 2008 and September 2014. We noted nystagmus onset and clinical characteristics and compared them with the MRI features and visual electrophysiology results.

Results: We included 85 boys and 63 girls (total 148, average age at MRI 4.24 ± 4.19 years). Twenty-three (15.5%) children had abnormal intracranial findings on MRI including abnormal signal lesions (4.1%; n=6), Chiari I malformations (3.4%; n=5) and optic pathway glioma (2.0%; n=3). The time of onset of nystagmus was not associated with an abnormal MRI (P=0.2). Seventy children underwent visual electrophysiology testing but this test could not predict abnormality at MRI, either (P=0.12).

Conclusion: Among children with isolated nystagmus, 15.5% had abnormalities on neuroimaging. Neither clinical characteristics of nystagmus nor the visual electrophysiology results allowed prediction of intracranial pathology. We were unable to formulate a management algorithm for the optimal sequence of investigations (MRI preceding visual electrophysiology or vice versa), but we discuss the use of gadolinium contrast agent and orbital sequences in isolated pediatric nystagmus.

Keywords: Brain; Central nervous system; Children; Magnetic resonance imaging; Nystagmus; Orbit; Visual electrophysiology.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Eye / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Retrospective Studies