Vertigo is a common complaint and may rarely be the presenting symptom of a paraneoplastic neurological syndrome (PNS).
A 76-year-old woman presented at the ER with subacute cerebellar syndrome and severe vertigo. Laboratory testing revealed mild anaemia. A cerebral CT scan showed no intracranial pathology. The patient was admitted for observation. History-taking revealed she been suffering from general malaise and had unintentionally lost 16 kg in weight over recent months. Further PET-CT investigations revealed multiple enlarged mediastinal and abdominal lymph nodes with high metabolic activity. Histopathological investigation of a lymph node biopsy showed a malignancy originating from the genital tract. Positive anti-neuronal antibodies (anti-Yo) and an elevated CA-125 concentration were found in peripheral blood. We diagnosed paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration as the first manifestation of hitherto undiagnosed occult ovarian cancer.
In a patient with subacute, cerebellar syndrome with severe vertigo, after ruling out other causes, the diagnosis of PNS should be considered. Determination of anti-neuronal antibodies can help in the diagnosis. Early recognition of PNS is important for the diagnosis and treatment of the underlying malignancy.