Differentiating central from peripheral causes of acute vertigo in an emergency setting with the HINTS, STANDING, and ABCD2 tests: A diagnostic cohort study

Acad Emerg Med. 2021 Jul 10. doi: 10.1111/acem.14337. Online ahead of print.


Background: Diagnosing stroke in dizzy patients remains a challenge in emergency medicine. The accuracy of the neuroophthalmologic examination HINTS performed by emergency physicians (EPs) is unknown. Our objective was to determine the accuracy of the HINTS examination performed by trained EPs for diagnosing central cause of acute vertigo and unsteadiness and to compare it with another bedside clinical tool, STANDING, and with the history-based score ABCD2.

Methods: This was a prospective diagnostic cohort study among patients with isolated vertigo and unsteadiness seen in a single emergency department (ED). Trained EPs performed HINTS and STANDING tests blinded to attending physicians. ABCD2 ≥ 4 was used as the threshold and was calculated retrospectively. The criterion standard was diffusion-weighted brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Peripheral diagnoses were established by a normal MRI, and etiologies were further refined by an otologic examination.

Results: We included 300 patients of whom 62 had a central lesion on neuroimaging including 49 strokes (79%). Of the 238 peripheral diagnoses, 159 were vestibulopathies, mainly benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (40%). HINTS and STANDING tests reached high sensitivities at 97% and 94% and NPVs at 99% and 98%, respectively. The ABCD2 score failed to predict half of central vertigo cases and had a sensitivity of 55% and a NPV of 87%. The STANDING test was more specific and had a better positive predictive value (PPV; 75% and 49%, respectively; positive likelihood ratio [LR+] = 3.71, negative likelihood ratio [LR-] = 0.09) than the HINTS test (67% and 44%, respectively; LR+ = 2.96, LR- = 0.04). The ABCD2 score was specific (82%, LR+ = 3.04, LR- = 0.56) but had a very low PPV (44%).

Conclusions: In the hands of EPs, HINTS and STANDING tests outperformed ABCD2 in identifying central causes of vertigo. For diagnosing peripheral disorders, the STANDING algorithm is more specific than the HINTS test. HINTS and STANDING could be useful tools saving both time and costs related to unnecessary neuroimaging use.