(See also Overview of Neuro-ophthalmologic and Cranial Nerve Disorders Overview of Neuro-ophthalmologic and Cranial Nerve Disorders Dysfunction of certain cranial nerves may affect the eye, pupil, optic nerve, or extraocular muscles and their nerves; thus, they can be considered cranial nerve disorders, neuro-ophthalmologic... read more .)
Etiology of Third Cranial Nerve Disorders
Third cranial (oculomotor) nerve disorders that cause palsies and affect the pupil commonly result from
Aneurysms (especially of the posterior communicating artery)
Less commonly, meningitis affecting the brain stem (eg, tuberculosis meningitis)
The most common cause of palsies that spare the pupil, particularly partial palsies, is
Ischemia of the 3rd cranial nerve (usually due to diabetes Diabetes Mellitus (DM) Diabetes mellitus is impaired insulin secretion and variable degrees of peripheral insulin resistance leading to hyperglycemia. Early symptoms are related to hyperglycemia and include polydipsia... read more or hypertension Hypertension Hypertension is sustained elevation of resting systolic blood pressure (≥ 130 mm Hg), diastolic blood pressure (≥ 80 mm Hg), or both. Hypertension with no known cause (primary; formerly, essential... read more ) or of the midbrain
Occasionally, a posterior communicating artery aneurysm causes oculomotor palsy and spares the pupil.
Symptoms and Signs of Third Cranial Nerve Disorders
Diplopia and ptosis (drooping of the upper eyelid) occur. The affected eye may deviate slightly out and down in straight-ahead gaze; adduction is slow and may not proceed past the midline. Upward gaze is impaired. When downward gaze is attempted, the superior oblique muscle causes the eye to adduct slightly and rotate.
The pupil may be normal or dilated; its response to direct and to consensual light may be sluggish or absent (efferent defect). Mydriasis (pupil dilation) may be an early sign.
Patients with oculomotor palsy with pupil dilation due to intracranial aneurysm or early transtentorial brain herniation can have severe headache, and mental status may deteriorate rapidly.
Diagnosis of Third Cranial Nerve Disorders
CT or MRI
Differential diagnosis for third cranial nerve disorders includes
Midbrain lesions that disrupt the oculomotor fascicle (Claude syndrome, Benedict syndrome)
Leptomeningeal tumor or infection
Cavernous sinus disease (giant carotid aneurysm, fistula, or thrombosis)
Intraorbital structural lesions (eg, orbital mucormycosis) that restrict ocular motility
Ocular myopathies (eg, due to hyperthyroidism or mitochondrial disorders)
Disorders of the neuromuscular junction (eg, due to myasthenia gravis or botulism)
Differentiation may be clinical. Exophthalmos or enophthalmos, a history of severe orbital trauma, or an obviously inflamed orbit suggests an intraorbital structural disorder. Graves orbitopathy (ophthalmopathy) should be considered in patients with bilateral ocular paresis, paresis of upward gaze or abduction, exophthalmos, lid retraction, lid lag during downward gaze (Graefe sign), and a normal pupil.
CT or MRI is required. If a patient has a dilated pupil and a sudden, severe headache (suggesting ruptured aneurysm) or is increasingly unresponsive (suggesting herniation), neuroimaging (CT or, if available, MRI) is done immediately. If a ruptured aneurysm is suspected and CT (or MRI) does not show blood or is not available rapidly, other tests, such as lumbar puncture, magnetic resonance angiography, CT angiography, or cerebral angiography, are indicated. Cavernous sinus disease and orbital mucormycosis require immediate MRI imaging for timely treatment.
Treatment of Third Cranial Nerve Disorders
Various, depending on the cause
Treatment of a third cranial nerve disorder depends on the cause.
Symptoms and signs include diplopia, ptosis, and impaired adduction and upward and downward gaze.
If the pupil is affected, consider aneurysms and transtentorial herniation; if the pupil is spared, consider ischemia of the nerve (usually secondary to diabetes or hypertension).
Exclude other possible causes based on clinical evaluation and neuroimaging; if patients have a severe headache or become increasingly unresponsive, do CT or MRI immediately.
Treat the disorder causing the palsy.