Spasm of the Near Reflex

Identifier 169-39
Title Spasm of the Near Reflex
Ocular Movements Functional Convergence Spasm; Voluntary Blinking
Creator Wray, Shirley H.
Contributor Primary Shirley H. Wray, MD, PhD, FRCP, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School; Director, Unit for Neurovisual Disorders, Massachusetts General Hospital
Subject Spasm of the Near Reflex; Functional Convergence Spasm; Voluntary Blinking; Voluntary Nystagmus; Spasm of the Near Triad; Convergence Spasm
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Presenting Symptom Episodic eye pain
History This 17 year old boy presented with episodic eye pain. He consulted an ophthalmologist for evaluation of his symptoms and also complained of periodic difficulty focusing. On examination he had periodic spasms of abnormal eye movements, with impairment of full abduction. His ophthalmologist considered the possibility of a tic or seizures and referred him to the Neurovisual Clinic. Past history: Significant for a long history of behavioral disturbance including non-compliance at school and temper tantrums. He was an only child. On examination he had intermittent spasm of convergence – spasm of the near reflex. Spasm of the near reflex may be a sign of: 1. An organic lesion or 2. A functional disorder Organic etiology: 1. Lesions at the diencephalic-mesencephalic junction, for example, thalamic esotropia characterized by eyes peering at the nose associated with thalamic hemorrhage. 2. Cogan described convergence spasm elicited by extending the neck, in a patient with downbeat nystagmus. 3. Wernicke’s encephalopathy 4. Chiari malformation and other posterior fossa lesions 5. Multiple sclerosis 6. Metabolic disturbances Spasm of the near reflex must be distinguished from convergence movements utilized by patients with horizontal gaze palsies to look laterally. In these cases, the pupils do not constrict with versional movements. (See ID936-4). Functional etiology: Spasm of convergence as a sign of a functional disorder is seen most commonly in adolescents and young adults with underlying psychological problems.
Clinical This case illustrates features typical of spasm of the near reflex. This is a condition frequently misdiagnosed as bilateral sixth nerve palsy and there are times during this eye movement recording when the patient fails to abduct the eyes fully. The features to watch for are: 1. Convergence spasms typically come and go. 2. The eyes are dysconjugate in primary gaze at the start of the exam, with an 3. Esotropia in primary position of the left eye 4. Each eye can move independently producing dysconjugate lateral movements 5. With both eyes viewing the patient limits abduction by imposing a strong convergence movement that causes accommodation, and most importantly, miosis. 6. With one eye patched, he has full abduction of both eyes 7. Careful examination shows full eye movements in all directions 8. Voluntary blinking of the eyelids accompanies the dysconjugate eye movements. Spasm of the near reflex, characterized by intermittent convergence, accommodation and miosis, is a functional disturbance. In 1976 we reported five patients with hysterical spasm of the near reflex erroneously diagnosed as a bilateral sixth nerve palsy. The pupillary sign, intense miosis on attempted lateral gaze, is emphasized as an important clue to the correct diagnosis. Despite extensive investigation, no disease of the central nervous system was found. Neurotic or hysterical features were evident in every patient. (Griffin JF, Wray SH, Anderson DP. Misdiagnosis of spasm of the near reflex. Neurology 1976;26:1018-1020)
Etiology Psychological/behavioral disorder
Disease/Diagnosis Spasm of the near reflex; Functional convergence spasms
Treatment Treatment in this case was directed towards the underlying psychological problems that this boy had. (See also ref 8) Psychloplegic eyedrops and refractive measures (positive or negative lenses) may be effective.
References 1. Choi KD, Jung DS, Kim JS. Specificity of “peering at the tip of the nose” for a diagnosis of thalamic hemorrhage. Arch Neurol 2004;61:417-422. 2. Cogan DG, Freese CG. Spasm of the near reflex. Arch Ophthalmol 1955;54:752-759. 3. Goldstein JH, Schneekloth BB. Spasm of the near reflex: a spectrum of anomalies. Surv Ophthalmology 1996;40:269-278. 4. Gomez CR, Gomez SM, Selhorst JB. Acute thalamic esotropia. Neurology 1988;38:1759-1762. 5. Griffin JF, Wray SH, Anderson DP. Misdiagnosis of spasm of the near reflex. Neurology 1976;26:1018-1020. 6. Hertle RW, Bienfang DC. Oculographic analysis of acute esotropia secondary to a thalamic hemorrhage. J Clin Neuro-ophthalmol 1990;10:21-26. 7. Newman NJ, Lessell S. Pupillary dilatation with monocular occlusion as a sign of nonorganic oculomotor dysfunction. Am J Ophthalmol 1989;108:461-462. 8. Sarkies NJC, Sander MD. Convergence spasm. Trans Ophthalmol UK 1985;104:782-786. 9. Schwartze GM, McHenry LC, Proctor BC. Convergence spasm – treatment by amytal interview. J Clin Neuro-ophthalmol 1983;3:123-125.
Publisher Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library, University of Utah
Date 1982
Context URL
Type Image/MovingImage
Format video/mp4
Source 16 mm Film
Rights Management Shirley H. Wray, MD, PhD, Copyright 2002. For further information regarding the rights to this collection, please visit
Holding Institution Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library, University of Utah, 10 N 1900 E, SLC, UT 84112-5890
Annotation no
Collection Neuro-ophthalmology Virtual Education Library: NOVEL
Language eng
Completion Date 2009-04-08
ARK ark:/87278/s6351gzw
Setname ehsl_novel_shw
Date Created 2008-09-05
Date Modified 2017-02-22
ID 188630
Reference URL
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