Misleading signs in acute vertigo

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The acute vestibular syndrome is common and usually has a benign cause. Sometimes, however, even experienced neurologists can find it difficult to determine the cause clinically. Furthermore, neuroimaging is known to be insensitive.

We describe two cases of acute vestibular syndrome where conflicting clinical findings contributed to a delay in making the correct diagnosis. The first patient with symptomatic vertigo had signs consistent with horizontal benign paroxysmal positional vertigo but also had an abnormal horizontal head impulse test, superficially suggesting acute vestibular neuritis but later accounted for by the finding of a vestibular schwannoma (acoustic neuroma). The second patient also had an abnormal horizontal head impulse test, with skew deviation suggesting stroke as the cause. However, later assessment identified that a long-standing fourth nerve palsy was the true cause for her apparent skew. We discuss potential errors that can arise when assessing such patients and highlight ways to avoid them.

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