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Practice tips. Treating vertigo in the office. Particle repositioning maneuver.


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VOL 46: DECEMBER • DÉCEMBRE 2000Canadian Family PhysicianLe Médecin de famille canadien 2395

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Practice Tips

Christopher Frank,MD, CCFP Shari Brown

Treating vertigo in the office

Particle repositioning maneuver


ertigo is a common complaint that has traditionally been a management challenge for family physi- cians. The prevalence of vertigo and benign paroxys- mal positional vertigo (BPPV) increases with age,1and the limitation imposed by dizziness puts older patients at risk of functional decline, falls, and depression.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is one of the most common causes of vertigo of peripheral origin.2 Working with the Regional Geriatric Program at St Mar y’s of the Lake Hospital in Kingston, Ont, I have had experience with several elderly patients who suffered from vertigo due to BPPV for periods ranging from months to several years. All patients were severely compromised as a result of their dizzi- ness. Consultation with the Vestibular Rehabilitation Program3 at our hospital introduced me to the parti- cle repositioning maneuver, which allowed these patients to return to normal living.

Before describing the procedure, it is helpful to review the etiology of BPPV. The ver tigo and nys- tagmus of BPPV are produced by gravity-induced alteration of endolymphatic pressure resulting in deflection of the cupola of the posterior semicircu- lar canal. We now think that debris accumulates in the posterior semicircular canal, indirectly af fect- ing sensor y firing from the cupola when patients move their heads.4Patients with BPPV commonly repor t ver tigo or, sometimes, nonspecific dizzi- ness when lying down or turning over in bed and sometimes when extending their necks (“top-shelf vertigo”).

The Dix-Hallpike man- euver (also known as the Hallpike maneuver) is familiar to most family physicians and is helpful in assessing vertigo and

BPPV.5 Tables 1 and 2 review the procedure and offer some tips for interpretation. If a patient com- plains of vertigo, and especially if the Dix-Hallpike maneuver is suggestive of BPPV, one of several parti- cle repositioning maneuvers should be considered.6,7 These procedures have a cited success rate of 60% to 80%6-9with a low recurrence rate (5% to 15%).6


Figure 1 illustrates the maneuver used in the vestibular rehabilitation program7 at St Mar y’s of the Lake Hospital. It can be done in the of fice in less than 10 minutes.

The maneuver should be explained to patients, We encourage readers to share some of their practice expe-

rience: the neat little tricks that solve difficult clinical situa- tions. Canadian Family Physician pays $50 to authors upon publication of their Practice Tips. Tips can be sent by mail to Dr Tony Reid, Scientific Editor, Canadian Family Physician, 2630 Skymark Ave, Mississauga, ON L4W 5A4;

by fax (905) 629-0893; or by e-mail tony@cfpc.ca.

Dr Frank teaches in the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont, and practises in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at St Mary’s of the Lake Hospital. Ms Brown is a physiotherapist in the Department of Physiotherapy at St Mary’s of the Lake Hospital.

Table 1.The Dix-Hallpike maneuver5 To diagnose benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, try turning the head 45° on both the right and left side to determine which ear is affected

Patient should be seated on examining table so that the head can be lowered below the level of the table Move patient rapidly to supine position with the head turned 45° to affected side

Head should be lowered so that the affected ear is 30° to 45° below horizontal with the chin pointing slightly up Note the presence, latency, duration, and direction of nystagmus

Sit patient back up

Repeat with head turned to opposite side


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and they should be told to expect to experience vertigo, but only briefly. Antiemetics are not routinely used before the maneuver because nausea is usually very short-lived or absent. Physical therapists working in the Vestibular Rehabilitation Program report that patients rarely vomit during the procedure. Patients should attempt to keep their eyes open during position changes. The maneuver is done as follows.

• Patient sits on examining table in position similar to that used for the Dix-Hallpike maneuver.

• Lower patient back (supporting head and neck), as in the Dix-Hallpike maneuver, with the neck extended and the head turned 45° toward the affected side so that the ear that precipitates ver tigo is downward.

• Maintain position for 2 minutes.

• Rotate head to a 45° angle on the opposite side so that unaffected ear is facing down.

• In one continuous motion, roll patient onto his or her side so that the affected ear is pointing up and the face

is pointing to the floor (head has maintained same ori- entation to body as patient is rolled onto side).

• Maintain this position for 2 minutes.

• Sit patient up with head held in same position, then turn head to face forward with chin angled down 20°

and hold for 2 minutes.

• It might help to repeat twice or more if symptoms are not extinguished.

• Remind patient of instructions to:

– sleep with head elevated at 45° for 2 nights,

– avoid positions that provoke vertigo for 48 hours, and

– after 48 hours, test positions that usually provoke vertigo.


The maneuver is safe and well tolerated, especially if patients are well prepared. Caution should be exercised with older patients with severe osteoarthritis of the neck because the positioning could cause discomfort.

The maneuver should not be done when patients have unstable cardiac conditions or severe carotid stenosis. Ver y rarely, patients develop ver tigo when their heads are in positions other than the presenting ones if particles migrate into the horizontal or anterior canals.10,11Repeating the particle repositioning maneu- ver will not help if this occurs. If the initial attempt is not successful, the maneuver should be repeated. If the repeat maneuver is unsuccessful or if features noted on histor y or during the Dix-Hallpike maneuver are sug- gestive of a central cause, referral to ear, nose, and throat specialists, to neurologists, or for neuroimaging should be considered.


1. Froehling DA, Silverstein MD, Mohr DN, Beatty CW, Offord KP, Ballard DJ.

Benign positional vertigo: incidence and prognosis in a population-based study in Olmstead County, Minnesota. Mayo Clin Proc 1991;66:596-601.

2. Hotson JR, Baloh RW. Acute vestibular syndrome. N Engl J Med 1998;339:680-5.

3. Martin C. Vestibular rehabilitation: outline of program at St Mary’s of the Lake Hospital, Kingston, Ontario. Synapse 1995;15(4):9-14.

4. Epley JM. Positional vertigo related to semicircular canalithiasis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg1995;112:154-61.

5. Dix MR, Hallpike CS. The pathology, symptomatology and diagnosis of certain common disorders of the vestibular system. Proc R Soc Med 1952;45:341-54.

6. Epley J. The canalith repositioning procedure for treatment of benign positional vertigo.

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg1992;107:399-404.

7. Parnes LS, Price-Jones RG. Particle repositioning maneuver for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 1993;102:325-31.

8. Lynn S, Pool A, Rose D, Brey R, Suman V. Randomized trial of the canalith reposition- ing procedure. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1995;113:712-20.

9. Welling DB, Barnes DE. Particle repositioning maneuver for benign paroxysmal posi- tional vertigo. Laryngoscope 1994;104:946-9.

10. Furman JM, Cass SP. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. N Engl J Med 1999;341:1590-6.

11. Herdman SJ, Tusa RJ. Complications of the canalith repositioning procedure.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg1996;112:281-6.

2396 Canadian Family PhysicianLe Médecin de famille canadienVOL 46: DECEMBER • DÉCEMBRE 2000

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Table 2.Dix-Hallpike maneuver findings in patients with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo10

A positive Dix-Hallpike maneuver result is visible nystagmus and vertigo lasting up to 30 seconds

Onset of vertigo and nystagmus should have a latency of 1 to 2 seconds (compared with the immediate onset with central causes)

Peripheral causes usually provoke more severe vertigo than central causes, sometimes with associated nausea and vomiting

Symptoms last 10 to 30 seconds

The Dix-Hallpike maneuver usually provokes mixed torsion- al and vertical nystagmus with the upper pole of the eyes moving toward the affected ear and vertically beating toward the forehead (nystagmus might not be fixed when the cause is central)

Vertigo and nystagmus diminish with repeated maneuvers when benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is the cause, but frequently persist with central causes

No other associated neurologic or gait findings should be present


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VOL 46: DECEMBER • DÉCEMBRE 2000Canadian Family PhysicianLe Médecin de famille canadien 2397

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Figure 1.Four positions of the particle repositioning maneuver for the right ear: A) Patient seated, B) Patient with head turned 45° for 1 to 2 minutes, C) Head rotated to opposite side before moving to final position, D) Patient rolls in one continuous movement and remains in this position for 2 minutes before sitting up.




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