What is the role of imaging studies in the workup of Tolosa-Hunt syndrome (THS)?

Updated: Nov 05, 2018
  • Author: Danette C Taylor, DO, MS, FACN; Chief Editor: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS  more...
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MRI [6] of the brain and orbit with and without contrast, magnetic resonance (MR) angiography or digital subtraction angiography (DSA), and CT scan of the brain and orbit with and without contrast may all be useful (see the images below). Inflammatory changes in the cavernous sinus, superior orbital fissure, and/or orbital apex are typically observed on high-resolution contrast-enhanced imaging. In the authors' experience, thin-slice high–magnetic field MRI of the cavernous sinus region, including coronal sections with and without contrast and fat-suppressed cuts of the orbital regions, is the modality of choice. These changes are not specific for Tolosa-Hunt syndrome and may also be present in neoplastic conditions of the cavernous sinus. Enlargement of the optic nerve or external ocular muscles has been described, emphasizing the continuum with idiopathic orbital inflammatory disorders. [31]

Note that findings on all imaging studies may be normal in some cases of Tolosa-Hunt syndrome.

Narrowing of the internal carotid artery within the cavernous sinus may be identified on angiography. Note that these changes are not specific to Tolosa-Hunt syndrome.

MRI with 3-dimensional constructive interference in steady state (3D CISS) provides an enhanced picture within the cavernous sinus. This type of imaging may assist with future diagnoses of TSH, but it is not yet used routinely. [7]

MRI of a 40-year-old man with severe periorbital p MRI of a 40-year-old man with severe periorbital pain ocular sinister (OS; ie, left eye), complete oculomotor nerve palsy OS, and partial abducens nerve palsy OS. Axial imaging without (left) and with (right) enhancement demonstrates nonspecific fullness involving the left cavernous sinus, consistent with Tolosa-Hunt syndrome within the context of the history. Treatment with steroids produced complete resolution of symptoms. Image courtesy of Eric Eggenberger, DO.
Coronal T1-weighted MRI with (below) and without ( Coronal T1-weighted MRI with (below) and without (above) enhancement demonstrates left cavernous sinus fullness consistent with Tolosa-Hunt syndrome (THS). The imaging features are nonspecific and must be placed into the context of the history, examination, and clinical course to avoid misdiagnosis of infiltrating, infectious, or neoplastic cavernous sinus processes. Image courtesy of Eric Eggenberger, DO.

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