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Objective: Patients with diabetes are at increased risk both for falls and for vestibular dysfunction, a known risk factor for falls. Our aims were 1) to further characterize the vestibular dysfunction present in patients with diabetes and 2) to evaluate for an independent effect of vestibular dysfunction on fall risk among patients with diabetes.

Study Design: National cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Ambulatory examination centers.

Patients: Adults from the United States aged 40 years and older who participated in the 2001-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (n = 5,86).

Interventions: Diagnosis of diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and retinopathy.

Main Outcome Measures: Vestibular function measured by the modified Romberg Test of Standing Balance on Firm and Compliant Support Surfaces and history of falling in the previous 12 months.

Results: We observed a higher prevalence of vestibular dysfunction in patients with diabetes with longer duration of disease, greater serum hemoglobin A1c levels and other diabetes-related complications, suggestive of a dose-response relationship between diabetes mellitus severity and vestibular dysfunction. We also noted that vestibular dysfunction independently increased the odds of falling more than 2-fold among patients with diabetes (odds ratio, 2.3; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-5.1), even after adjusting for peripheral neuropathy and retinopathy. Moreover, we found that including vestibular dysfunction, peripheral neuropathy, and retinopathy in multivariate models eliminated the significant association between diabetes and fall risk.

Conclusion: Vestibular dysfunction may represent a newly recognized diabetes-related complication, which acts as a mediator of the effect of diabetes mellitus on fall risk.

(C) 2010 Otology & Neurotology, Inc.