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What Is the Unterberger Test?

The Unterberger Test is a clinical assessment used to evaluate vestibular function and balance. During the test, a patient marches in place with eyes closed, while a clinician observes for any involuntary drifting or rotation, which may indicate inner ear or brain abnormalities. Intrigued by how this simple test can reveal complex health insights? Discover more about its diagnostic power in our full article.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Unterberger test is an evaluation of a patient with dizziness to determine if lesions on the cerebellum or inside the ear are responsible for patient’s symptoms. Patients are asked to walk in place for 30 seconds while care providers watch for signs of imbalance. It is one among a series of tests that can be performed in an office environment to collect information about the specific nature of a patient’s condition. Hearing and balance specialists may use this test, as may general practitioners who want some information about a patient to decide how to proceed with treatment. If there is an issue with the patient’s vestibular system, used to coordinate balance, the patient might need a referral to a specialist.

In this test, the patient’s eyes should be closed or covered, and the room must be quiet. The goal is to remove any stimuli that a patient could use for orientation. A space is cleared in the middle of the room to allow the patient to high step in place for the Unterberger test. Care providers stand close to the patient to intervene if there is a risk of an injury. If a patient’s vestibular system is in working order, it should be possible to stay more or less in the same position.

The Unterberger test determines if lesions on the cerebellum are responsible for a patient's dizziness.
The Unterberger test determines if lesions on the cerebellum are responsible for a patient's dizziness.

Patients with lesions in their brains or damage to the labyrinth of the ear can start to rotate or twist. They tend to move in the direction of the damage. Care providers can note how much rotation occurs and which direction the patient moves in. They may ask to repeat the test to confirm the findings. Other tests can provide more information about which tasks people can complete, and the severity of balance and orientation problems.

A person who reports disorientation may have lesions on the inside of their ear.
A person who reports disorientation may have lesions on the inside of their ear.

This is also known as the Fukuda test. Care providers can use it in a routine evaluation of a patient who reports dizziness or disorientation if a problem with the vestibular system is suspected. If the findings of the Unterberger test indicate that the patient does have a lesion, additional testing is often required, including scans of the brain. Testing can also be used to follow up on a patient with ongoing symptoms, or to monitor response to treatment.

An unterberger test will be conducted on someone complaining of dizziness.
An unterberger test will be conducted on someone complaining of dizziness.

Care providers do not use this as a definitive test. Patients may experience balance problems while performing the Unterberger test for a number of reasons, and more information is needed to put together a complete picture. Patients might be dizzy because of low blood pressure or blood sugar, for example, and could stagger during the Unterberger test because their legs feel weak.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • The Unterberger test determines if lesions on the cerebellum are responsible for a patient's dizziness.
      By: atulvermabhai
      The Unterberger test determines if lesions on the cerebellum are responsible for a patient's dizziness.
    • A person who reports disorientation may have lesions on the inside of their ear.
      By: chuugo
      A person who reports disorientation may have lesions on the inside of their ear.
    • An unterberger test will be conducted on someone complaining of dizziness.
      By: SEPULTURA_FROM_HELL
      An unterberger test will be conducted on someone complaining of dizziness.
    • Dizziness can occur as a result of low blood pressure.
      By: mangostock
      Dizziness can occur as a result of low blood pressure.