Clinical Reasoning: An 82-Year-Old Woman With Subacute Ophthalmoparesis and Ataxia

Neurology. 2023 Aug 1;101(5):e570-e575. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000207246. Epub 2023 Mar 29.


We present the case of an 82-year-old woman with subacute altered mental status, oculomotor disturbances, and ataxia. On examination, she exhibited bilateral ptosis, complete horizontal ophthalmoplegia, and limited vertical eye movements during upgaze associated with prominent truncal ataxia. Cerebral MRI showed a mild hyperintensity on T2 and fluid-attenuated inversion recovery sequences in the posterior brainstem extending to the upper cervical cord, without gadolinium enhancement. Clinical and radiologic features suggested an encephalomyelitis with prominent brainstem involvement. We summarize the comprehensive differential diagnosis in patients with subacute brainstem encephalitis, which includes infectious paraneoplastic syndromes and inflammatory disorders. This case highlights the relevance of performing a wide methodical screening for malignancy in case of negative initial workup.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ataxia
  • Cerebellar Ataxia*
  • Clinical Reasoning
  • Contrast Media
  • Female
  • Gadolinium
  • Humans
  • Ophthalmoplegia* / diagnosis
  • Ophthalmoplegia* / etiology


  • Contrast Media
  • Gadolinium