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BMC Neurology


Background: Tolosa-Hunt syndrome (THS) is characterized by painful ophthalmoplegia caused by idiopathic granulomatous inflammation involving the cavernous sinus region. Patients respond well to steroid therapy. THS is included in the differential diagnosis of cavernous sinus syndrome, so it is important to fully exclude other lesions in this area before treatment, otherwise steroid treatment may lead to fatal outcomes. Here we describe a patient who initially presented with symptoms that simulated THS symptoms and developed recurrent alternating painful ophthalmoplegia during follow-up, and the patient was finally diagnosed with cavernous sinusitis caused by bacterial sphenoid sinusitis.

Case presentation: A 34-year-old woman presented with left painful ophthalmoplegia. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed abnormal signals in the left cavernous sinus area, and these abnormal signals were suspected to be THS. After steroid treatment, the patient obtained pain relief and had complete recovery of her ophthalmoplegia. However, right painful ophthalmoplegia appeared during the follow-up period. MRI showed obvious inflammatory signals in the right cavernous sinus and right sphenoid sinus. Then nasal sinus puncture and aspiration culture were performed, and the results showed a coagulase-negative staphylococcus infection. After antibiotic treatment with vancomycin, the painful ophthalmoplegia completely resolved, and the neurological examination and MRI returned to normal.

Conclusion: Some other causes of painful ophthalmoplegia also fulfill the diagnostic criteria for THS in the International Classification of Headache Disorders third edition (ICHD-3) and respond well to steroid therapy. Early diagnosis of THS may be harmful to patients, and clinicians should exercise great caution when dealing with similar cases without a biopsy. Using "cavernous sinus syndrome" instead of "Tolosa-Hunt syndrome" as a diagnostic category may provide a better clinical thinking for etiological diagnosis.



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Cavernous sinus syndrome, Diagnostic criteria, ICHD-3, Painful ophthalmoplegia, Tolosa-Hunt syndrome (THS)