Symptoms to Diagnosis

A 69-year-old woman with double vision and lower-extremity weakness

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A 69-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital with double vision, weakness in the lower extremities, sensory loss, pain, and falls. Her symptoms started with sudden onset of horizontal diplopia 6 weeks before, followed by gradually worsening lower-extremity weakness, as well as ataxia and patchy and bilateral radicular burning leg pain more pronounced on the right. Her medical history included narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and bilateral knee replacements for osteoarthritis.

Neurologic examination showed inability to abduct the right eye, bilateral hip flexion weakness, decreased pinprick response, decreased proprioception, and diminished muscle stretch reflexes in the lower extremities. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain without contrast and magnetic resonance angiography of the brain and carotid arteries showed no evidence of acute stroke. No abnormalities were noted on electrocardiography and echocardiography.

A diagnosis of idiopathic peripheral neuropathy was made, and outpatient physical therapy was recommended. Over the subsequent 2 weeks, her condition declined to the point where she needed a walker. She continued to have worsening leg weakness with falls, prompting hospital readmission.


In addition to her diplopia and weakness, she said she had lost 15 pounds since the onset of symptoms and had experienced symptoms suggesting urinary retention.

Physical examination

Her temperature was 37°C (98.6°F), heart rate 79 beats per minute, blood pressure 117/86 mm Hg, respiratory rate 14 breaths per minute, and oxygen saturation 98% on room air. Examination of the head, neck, heart, lung, abdomen, lymph nodes, and extremities yielded nothing remarkable except for chronic venous changes in the lower extremities.

The neurologic examination showed incomplete lateral gaze bilaterally (cranial nerve VI dysfunction). Strength in the upper extremities was normal. In the legs, the Medical Research Council scale score for proximal muscle strength was 2 to 3 out of 5, and for distal muscles 3 to 4 out of 5, with the right side worse than the left and flexors and extensors affected equally. Muscle stretch reflexes were absent in both lower extremities and the left upper extremity, but intact in the right upper extremity. No abnormal corticospinal tract reflexes were elicited.

Sensory testing revealed diminished pin-prick perception in a length-dependent fashion in the lower extremities, reduced 50% compared with the hands. Gait could not be assessed due to weakness.

Initial laboratory testing

Results of initial laboratory tests—complete blood cell count, complete metabolic panel, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and hemoglobin A1c—were unremarkable.


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