What is the pathophysiology of torsional (rotary) nystagmus?

Updated: Oct 17, 2018
  • Author: Christopher M Bardorf, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Edsel Ing, MD, MPH, FRCSC  more...
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Torsional (rotary) nystagmus refers to a rotary movement of the globe about its anteroposterior axis. Torsional nystagmus is accentuated on lateral gaze. Most nystagmus resulting from dysfunction of the vestibular system has a torsional component superimposed on a horizontal or vertical nystagmus.

This condition occurs with lesions of the anterior and posterior semicircular canals on the same side (eg, lateral medullary syndrome). Lesions of the lateral medulla may produce a torsional nystagmus with the fast phase directed away from the side of the lesion. This type of nystagmus can be accentuated by otolithic stimulation by placing the patient on their side with the intact side down (eg, if the lesion is on the left, the nystagmus is accentuated when the patient is placed on his right side).

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