Nystagmus

Joome Suh MD (

Dr. Suh of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts has no relevant financial relationships to disclose

)
Sashank Prasad MD (Dr. Prasad of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.)
Jonathan D Trobe MD, editor. (Dr. Trobe of the University of Michigan has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.)
Originally released February 21, 2000; last updated April 10, 2018; expires April 10, 2021

This article includes discussion of nystagmus, physiologic nystagmus, pathologic nystagmus, congenital nystagmus (infantile nystagmus), acquired nystagmus, jerk nystagmus, pendular nystagmus, and vestibular nystagmus. The foregoing terms may include synonyms, similar disorders, variations in usage, and abbreviations.

Overview

Nystagmus is the term used to describe rhythmic involuntary oscillations of the eyes. This examination finding is commonly encountered in clinical practice. To the untrained eye, it may be difficult to distinguish among the types of nystagmus. This article provides an overview of various forms of physiologic and pathologic nystagmus, their differentiating characteristics, and associated findings. The authors discuss the common pathologies associated with each type of nystagmus and strategies for work-up. Finally, they discuss available therapeutics for specific types of nystagmus.

Key points

 

• Nystagmus refers to rhythmic involuntary oscillations of the eyes.

 

• Nystagmus may be physiologic or pathologic and congenital or acquired.

 

• Identifying the type of nystagmus can be helpful in localizing the causative lesion in pathologic cases.

 

• Various pharmacologic agents are available for different types of nystagmus

Historical note and terminology

The word nystagmus originates from the Greek word nustagmos, meaning “drowsiness” or “nodding.” The movements of the eyes in nystagmus were thought to be similar to the nodding movements of the head in a drowsy person (Smith 1902).

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