Vestibular symptoms and history taking

Handb Clin Neurol. 2016;137:83-90. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63437-5.00006-6.


History taking is an essential part in the diagnostic process of vestibular disorders. The approach to focus strongly on the quality of symptoms, like vertigo, dizziness, or unsteadiness, is not that useful as these symptoms often coexist and are all nonspecific, as each of them may arise from vestibular and nonvestibular diseases (like cardiovascular disease) and do not permit to distinguish potentially dangerous from benign causes. Instead, patients should be categorized if they have an acute, episodic, or chronic vestibular syndrome (AVS, EVS, or CVS) to narrow down the spectrum of differential diagnosis. Typical examples of disorders provoking an AVS would be vestibular neuritis or stroke of peripheral or central vestibular structures, of an EVS Menière's disease, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or vestibular migraine and of a CVS long-standing uni- or bilateral vestibular failure or cerebellar degeneration. The presence of triggers should be established with a main distinction between positional (change of head orientation with respect to gravity), head motion-induced (time-locked to head motion regardless of direction) and orthostatic position change as the underlying disorders are quite different. Accompanying symptoms also help to orient to the underlying cause, like aural or neurologic symptoms, but also chest pain or dyspnea.

Keywords: Menière disease; dizziness; positional vertigo; unsteadiness; vertigo; vestibular migraine; vestibular syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Medical History Taking / methods*
  • Vestibular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Vestibular Diseases / physiopathology*