Bilateral vestibulopathy

Handb Clin Neurol. 2016:137:235-40. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63437-5.00017-0.


The leading symptoms of bilateral vestibulopathy (BVP) are postural imbalance and unsteadiness of gait that worsens in darkness and on uneven ground. There are typically no symptoms while sitting or lying under static conditions. A minority of patients also have movement-induced oscillopsia, in particular while walking. The diagnosis of BVP is based on a bilaterally reduced or absent function of the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR). This deficit is diagnosed for the high-frequency range of the angular VOR by a bilaterally pathologic bedside head impulse test (HIT) and for the low-frequency range by a bilaterally reduced or absent caloric response. If the results of the bedside HIT are unclear, angular VOR function should be quantified by a video-oculography system (vHIT). An additional test supporting the diagnosis is dynamic visual acuity. Cervical and ocular vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials (c/oVEMP) may also be reduced or absent, indicating impaired otolith function. There are different subtypes of BVP depending on the affected anatomic structure and frequency range of the VOR deficit: impaired canal function in the low- and/or high-frequency VOR range only and/or otolith function only; the latter is very rare. The etiology of BVP remains unclear in more than 50% of patients: in these cases neurodegeneration is assumed. Frequent known causes are ototoxicity mainly due to gentamicin, bilateral Menière's disease, autoimmune diseases, meningitis and bilateral vestibular schwannoma, as well as an association with cerebellar degeneration (cerebellar ataxia, neuropathy, vestibular areflexia syndrome=CANVAS). In general, in the long term there is no improvement of vestibular function. There are four treatment options: first, detailed patient counseling to explain the cause, etiology, and consequences, as well as the course of the disease; second, daily vestibular exercises and balance training; third, if possible, treatment of the underlying cause, as in bilateral Menière's disease, meningitis, or autoimmune diseases; fourth, if possible, prevention, i.e., being very restrictive with the use of ototoxic substances, such as aminoglycosides. In the future vestibular implants may also be an option.

Keywords: CANVAS; Menière's disease; gentamicin; otolith function; ototoxicity; vestibular rehabilitation; vestibulo-ocular reflex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bilateral Vestibulopathy / diagnosis
  • Bilateral Vestibulopathy / etiology
  • Bilateral Vestibulopathy / physiopathology*
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Otolithic Membrane / pathology
  • Otolithic Membrane / physiopathology
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular / physiology*