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Detection of focal cerebral hemisphere lesions using the neurological examination
  1. N E Anderson1,
  2. D F Mason1,*,
  3. J N Fink1,*,
  4. P S Bergin1,
  5. A J Charleston1,
  6. G D Gamble2
  1. 1Department of Neurology, Auckland Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand
  2. 2Department of Medicine, University of Auckland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Neil Anderson
 Department of Neurology, Auckland Hospital, Private Bag 92024, Auckland, New Zealand;


Objective: To determine the sensitivity and specificity of clinical tests for detecting focal lesions in a prospective blinded study.

Methods: 46 patients with a focal cerebral hemisphere lesion without obvious focal signs and 19 controls with normal imaging were examined using a battery of clinical tests. Examiners were blinded to the diagnosis. The sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values of each test were measured.

Results: The upper limb tests with the greatest sensitivities for detecting a focal lesion were finger rolling (sensitivity 0.33 (95% confidence interval, 0.21 to 0.47)), assessment of power (0.30 (0.19 to 0.45)), rapid alternating movements (0.30 (0.19 to 0.45)), forearm rolling (0.24 (0.14 to 0.38)), and pronator drift (0.22 (0.12 to 0.36)). All these tests had a specificity of 1.00 (0.83 to 1.00). This combination of tests detected an abnormality in 50% of the patients with a focal lesion. In the lower limbs, assessment of power was the most sensitive test (sensitivity 0.20 (0.11 to 0.33)). Visual field defects were detected in 10 patients with a focal lesion (sensitivity 0.22 (0.12 to 0.36)) and facial weakness in eight (sensitivity 0.17 (0.09 to 0.31)). Overall, the examination detected signs of focal brain disease in 61% of the patients with a focal cerebral lesion.

Conclusions: The neurological examination has a low sensitivity for detecting early cerebral hemisphere lesions in patients without obvious focal signs. The finger and forearm rolling tests, rapid alternating movements of the hands, and pronator drift are simple tests that increase the detection of a focal lesion without greatly increasing the length of the examination.

  • brain disease
  • brain neoplasm
  • neurological examination

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  • * Current address: Neurology Department, Christchurch Hospital, Christchurch, New Zealand

  • Competing interests: none declared