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Front Neurol. 2012 Nov 12;3:162. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2012.00162. eCollection 2012.

False-positive head-impulse test in cerebellar ataxia.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University Hospital of Munich Munich, Germany ; German Centre for Vertigo and Balance Disorders, University of Munich Munich, Germany.


The objective of this study was to compare the findings of the bedside head-impulse test (HIT), passive head rotation gain, and caloric irrigation in patients with cerebellar ataxia (CA). In 16 patients with CA and bilaterally pathological bedside HIT, vestibuloocular reflex (VOR) gains were measured during HIT and passive head rotation by scleral search coil technique. Eight of the patients had pathologically reduced caloric responsiveness, while the other eight had normal caloric responses. Those with normal calorics showed a slightly reduced HIT gain (mean ± SD: 0.73 ± 0.15). In those with pathological calorics, gains 80 and 100 ms after the HIT as well as the passive rotation VOR gains were significantly lower. The corrective saccade after head turn occurred earlier in patients with pathological calorics (111 ± 62 ms after onset of the HIT) than in those with normal calorics (191 ± 17 ms, p = 0.0064). We identified two groups of patients with CA: those with an isolated moderate HIT deficit only, probably due to floccular dysfunction, and those with combined HIT, passive rotation, and caloric deficit, probably due to a peripheral vestibular deficit. From a clinical point of view, these results show that the bedside HIT alone can be false-positive for establishing a diagnosis of a bilateral peripheral vestibular deficit in patients with CA.


cerebellar atrophy; cerebellum; flocculus; head-impulse test; vestibuloocular reflex

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