Robyn J Wolintz MD (Dr. Wolintz of NYU Langone Levit Medical in Brooklyn, New York, received honorariums from Biogen, Teva,  Questcor, and Bayer for speaking engagements.)
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 29, 2017; expires April 29, 2020

This article includes discussion of nystagmus, congenital nystagmus, internuclear ophthalmoplegia, periodic alternating nystagmus, and spasmus nutans. The foregoing terms may include synonyms, similar disorders, variations in usage, and abbreviations.

Key points


• Nystagmus is the rhythmic, involuntary oscillatory movement in 1 or both eyes in any fields of gaze. Nystagmus can be congenital or acquired.


• Gaze-evoked nystagmus is induced by moving the eyes into an eccentric position in the orbit.


• The features of congenital nystagmus can be remembered by the mnemonic CONGENITAL.


• Other forms of nystagmus can either be anatomically localizing or recognized by their constellation of associated clinical findings.

Historical note and terminology

The Greek word for drowsiness, nustagmus, was used to refer to the unstable movement of the eyeballs, and this was thought to be an appropriate term to use (Tainmont 2009).

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