Gottlieb M, Peksa GD, Carlson JN Head impulse, nystagmus, and test of skew examination for diagnosing central causes of acute vestibular syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2023 Nov 2;11(11):CD015089. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD015089.pub2. (Systematic review)

BACKGROUND: Dizziness is a common reason for people to seek medical care. Acute vestibular syndrome (AVS) is a specific type of dizziness, which can include severe vertigo, nausea and vomiting, nystagmus, or unsteadiness. Acute vestibular syndrome can be due to peripheral or central causes. It is important to determine the cause, as the intervention and outcomes differ if it is from a peripheral or central cause. Clinicians can assess for the cause using risk factors, patient history, examination findings, or advanced imaging, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The head impulse, nystagmus, test of skew (HINTS) examination is a three-part examination performed by clinicians to determine if AVS is due to a peripheral or central cause. This includes assessing how the eyes move in response to rapidly turning a person's head (head impulse), assessing the direction of involuntary eye movements (nystagmus), and assessing whether the eyes are aligned or misaligned (test of skew). The HINTS Plus examination includes an additional assessment of auditory function.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the diagnostic accuracy of the HINTS and HINTS Plus examinations, with or without video assistance, for identifying a central etiology for AVS.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, Google Scholar, the International HTA database, and two trials registers to September 2022.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included all retrospective and prospective diagnostic test accuracy studies that evaluated the HINTS or HINTS Plus test used in a primary care clinic, an urgent care clinic, the emergency department, or during inpatient hospitalization against a final diagnosis of a central etiology of AVS, as defined by the reference standard of advanced imaging or final diagnosis by a neurologist.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently determined eligibility of each study according to eligibility criteria, extracted data, assessed the risk of bias, and determined the certainty of evidence. Disagreements were adjudicated by consensus or a third review author if needed. The primary outcome was the diagnostic accuracy of the HINTS and HINTS Plus examinations for identifying a central etiology for AVS, conducted clinically (clinician visual assessment) or with video assistance (e.g. video recording with goggles); we independently assessed the clinical and video-assisted examinations. Subgroup analyses were performed by provider type (e.g. physicians, non-physicians), time from symptom onset to presentation (e.g. less than 24 hours, longer than 24 hours), reference standard (e.g. advanced imaging, discharge diagnosis), underlying etiology (e.g. ischemic stroke, alternative etiologies [hemorrhagic stroke, intracranial mass]), study setting (e.g. outpatient [outpatient clinic, urgent care clinic, emergency department], inpatient), physician level of training (e.g. resident, fellow/attending), physician specialty (e.g. otolaryngology, emergency medicine, neurology, and neurologic subspecialist [e.g. neuro-ophthalmology, neuro-otology]), and individual diagnostic accuracy of each component of the examination (e.g. head impulse, direction-changing nystagmus, test of skew). We created 2 x 2 tables of the true positives, true negatives, false positives, and false negatives and used these data to calculate the sensitivity, specificity, positive likelihood ratio, and negative likelihood ratio with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) for each outcome.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 16 studies with a total of 2024 participants (981 women and 1043 men) with a mean age of 60 years. Twelve studies assessed the HINTS examination; five assessed the HINTS Plus examination. Thirteen studies were performed in the emergency department; half were performed by neurologists. The clinical HINTS examination (12 studies, 1890 participants) was 94.0% (95% confidence interval [CI] 82.0% to 98.2%) sensitive, and 86.9% (95% CI 75.3% to 93.6%) specific (low-certainty evidence). The video-assisted HINTS examination (3 studies, 199 participants) was 85.0% to 100% sensitive (low-certainty evidence), and 38.9% to 100% specific (very low-certainty evidence). The clinical HINTS Plus examination (5 studies, 451 participants) was 95.3% (95% CI 78.4% to 99.1%) sensitive, and 72.9% (95% CI 44.4% to 90.1%) specific (low-certainty evidence). The video-assisted HINTS Plus examination (2 studies, 163 participants) was 85.0% to 93.8% sensitive, and 28.6% to 38.9% specific (moderate-certainty evidence). Subgroup analyses were limited, as most studies were conducted in the emergency department, by physicians, and with MRI as a reference standard. Time from symptom onset to presentation varied across studies. Three studies were at high risk of bias and three studies were at unclear risk of bias for participant selection. Three studies were at unclear risk of bias for the index test. Four studies were at unclear risk of bias for the reference standard. Two studies were at unclear risk of bias for flow and timing. One study had unclear applicability concerns for participant selection. Two studies had high applicability concerns for the index test and two studies had unclear applicability concerns for the index test. No studies had applicability concerns for the reference standard.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The HINTS and HINTS Plus examinations had good sensitivity and reasonable specificity for diagnosing a central cause for AVS in the emergency department when performed by trained clinicians. Overall, the evidence was of low certainty. There were limited data for the role of video-assistance or specific subgroups. Future research should include more high-quality studies of the HINTS and HINTS Plus examination; assessment of inter-rater reliability across users; accuracy across different providers, specialties, and experience; and direct comparison with no HINTS or MRI to assess the effect on clinical care.

Discipline Area Score
Emergency Medicine 6 / 7
Neurology 6 / 7
Comments from MORE raters

Emergency Medicine rater

In this SRMA, HINTS performed moderately well, although there were large confidence intervals for the sensitivity and specificity. It's not surprising that when broken down by components, the performance, especially sensitivity, was not great. Also, most studies were relatively small and the best studies showing benefit were from those who doing the diagnoses were specifically trained. Future studies should look to define what training is needed at a minimum to develop an adequate skill set in performing HINTS. Lastly, this may be moot when AI is implemented and can interpret these physical findings.

Emergency Medicine rater

This Cochrane review evaluated the HINTS and HINTS plus exams in diagnosing a central cause for AVS. The authors included 16 studies with 2024 patients. 12 studies evaluated HINTS, and 5 evaluated HINTS plus. 13 studies were conducted in the ED. Clinical HINTS was 94% sensitive and 86.9% specific. Video-assisted exams were 85-100% sensitive and 38.9-100% specific. Clinical HINTS plus was 95.3% sensitive and 72.9% specific. Video-assisted HINTS plus was 85-93.8% sensitive and 28.6-38.9% specific. Unfortunately, the overall certainty of evidence was low.

Neurology rater

In emergency departments, the majority of the HINT population receives a neuroimaging test, which makes this test less useful than in the past.

Neurology rater

The paper should definitely be placed among those that might make a difference in the field. It is very interesting how the authors inserted some final questions and answers to allow the readers to clearly understand what was done in this study.
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