Recommendations for adults aged over 16

People have the right to be involved in discussions and make informed decisions about their care, as described in your care.

Making decisions using NICE guidelines explains how we use words to show the strength (or certainty) of our recommendations, and has information about prescribing medicines (including off-label use), professional guidelines, standards and laws (including on consent and mental capacity), and safeguarding.

1.1 Blackouts in adults

1.1.1 Refer urgently adults with new-onset blackouts (transient loss of consciousness), accompanied by features that are strongly suggestive of epileptic seizures, for neurological assessment in line with the recommendation for people with suspected epilepsy in the NICE guideline on transient loss of consciousness ('blackouts') in over 16s.

1.1.2 Do not routinely refer adults with blackouts if there are clear features of vasovagal syncope, even if associated with brief jerking of the limbs. See recommendation 1.1.4.3 on uncomplicated faint in the NICE guideline on transient loss of consciousness ('blackouts') in over 16s.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on blackouts in adults, see rationale.

1.2 Dizziness and vertigo in adults

Sudden-onset dizziness with a focal neurological deficit

1.2.1 For adults with sudden-onset dizziness and a focal neurological deficit such as vertical or rotatory nystagmus, new-onset unsteadiness or new‑onset deafness:

  • if the person has diabetes, check for and treat hypoglycaemia

  • if the person does not have diabetes, or treating hypoglycaemia does not resolve the symptoms, and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or postural hypotension do not account for the presentation, refer immediately to exclude posterior circulation stroke, in line with the NICE guideline on stroke and transient ischaemic attack in over 16s.

Sudden-onset acute vestibular syndrome

1.2.2 For adults with sudden-onset acute vestibular syndrome (vertigo, nausea or vomiting and gait unsteadiness), a HINTS (head-impulse–nystagmus–test-of-skew) test should be performed if a healthcare professional with training and experience in the use of this test is available.

1.2.3 For adults with sudden-onset acute vestibular syndrome who have had a HINTS test:

  • be aware that a negative HINTS test makes a diagnosis of stroke very unlikely

  • refer immediately for neuroimaging if the HINTS test shows indications of stroke (a normal head impulse test, direction-changing nystagmus or skew deviation).

1.2.4 Refer immediately adults with sudden-onset acute vestibular syndrome in whom benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or postural hypotension do not account for the presentation, in line with local stroke pathways, if a healthcare professional with training and experience in the use of the HINTS test is not available.

Sudden-onset dizziness with no imbalance or focal neurological deficit

1.2.5 Be aware that dizziness in adults with no imbalance or other focal neurological deficit is unlikely to indicate a serious neurological condition.

Vertigo on head movement

1.2.6 For adults with transient rotational vertigo on head movement:

  • Offer the Hallpike manoeuvre to check for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) if a healthcare professional trained in its use is available. If there is no healthcare professional trained in the Hallpike manoeuvre available, refer in accordance with local pathways.

  • If BPPV is diagnosed, offer a canalith repositioning manoeuvre (such as the Epley manoeuvre) if a healthcare professional trained in its use is available and if the person does not have unstable cervical spine disease. If there is no healthcare professional trained in a canalith repositioning manoeuvre available, or the person has unstable cervical spine disease, refer in accordance with local pathways.

  • Be aware that BPPV is common after a head injury or labyrinthitis.

Vestibular migraine

1.2.7 Be alert to the possibility of vestibular migraine (migraine-associated vertigo) in adults who have episodes of dizziness that last between 5 minutes and 72 hours and a history of recurrent headache.

Recurrent dizziness as part of a functional neurological disorder

1.2.8 Be aware that, for adults who have been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder by a specialist, recurrent dizziness might be part of the disorder and the person might not need re‑referral if there are no new neurological signs. New symptoms or signs in adults who have been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder by a specialist should be assessed as described in the relevant sections of this guideline.

1.2.9 Advise adults with recurrent dizziness and a diagnosed functional neurological disorder that their dizziness will fluctuate and might increase during times of stress.

Dizziness with altered consciousness

1.2.10 Refer adults with recurrent fixed-pattern dizziness associated with alteration of consciousness to have an assessment for epilepsy in line with the NICE guideline on epilepsies.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on dizziness and vertigo in adults, see rationale.

1.3 Facial pain, atraumatic

Facial pain with persistent facial numbness or abnormal neurological signs

1.3.1 Refer urgently adults with facial pain associated with persistent facial numbness or abnormal neurological signs for neuroimaging.

Unilateral facial pain triggered by touching the face (trigeminal neuralgia)

1.3.2 Refer adults with unilateral facial pain that is triggered by touching the affected part of the face (trigeminal neuralgia) and is refractory to treatment, in line with the NICE guideline on neuropathic pain in adults.

Scalp tenderness or jaw claudication suggestive of temporal arteritis

1.3.3 For adults with scalp tenderness or jaw claudication suggestive of temporal arteritis, consider blood tests and follow local pathways for suspected giant cell (temporal) arteritis. Be aware that a normal ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) does not exclude a diagnosis of giant cell arteritis.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on atraumatic facial pain, see rationale.

1.4 Gait unsteadiness

Sudden-onset unsteady gait

1.4.1 For recommendations on assessing sudden-onset unsteady gait in adults, see the NICE guideline on stroke and transient ischaemic attack in over 16s.

Rapidly progressive unsteady gait (gait ataxia)

1.4.2 Refer urgently adults with rapidly (within days to weeks) progressive unsteady gait (gait ataxia) for neurological assessment.

Gradually progressive unsteady gait (gait ataxia)

1.4.3 Refer adults with gradually progressive unsteady gait (gait ataxia) for neurological assessment and:

Difficulty initiating and coordinating walking (gait apraxia)

1.4.4 Refer adults who have difficulty initiating and coordinating walking (gait apraxia) to neurology or an elderly care clinic to exclude normal pressure hydrocephalus.

1.4.5 For adults with unsteadiness of gait who are at risk of falling, follow the recommendations on multifactorial falls risk assessment in the NICE guideline on falls in older people, and consider referring to a falls prevention team.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on gait unsteadiness, see rationale.

1.5 Handwriting difficulties

1.5.1 Refer adults who have sudden-onset difficulty with handwriting that has no obvious musculoskeletal cause for a neurological assessment according to local stroke pathways.

1.5.2 Ask adults who have difficulty with handwriting that has no obvious musculoskeletal cause to demonstrate their handwriting and:

  • if they have a problem with generating language rather than hand function, refer for neurological assessment

  • if their handwriting is small and slow, consider referring for possible Parkinson's disease

  • if their difficulty is specific to the task of handwriting and examination shows no other abnormalities, consider referring for possible focal dystonia.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on handwriting difficulties, see rationale.

1.6 Headaches in adults

For advice on referral for headaches in adults, see the NICE guideline on headaches in over 12s.

1.7 Limb or facial weakness in adults

Sudden-onset limb weakness

1.7.1 Be aware that sudden-onset weakness, even in restricted distribution (for example, sudden hand weakness), may be caused by a stroke or transient ischaemic attack. See the NICE guideline on stroke and transient ischaemic attack in over 16s for recommendations on assessing sudden-onset limb or facial weakness in adults.

Rapidly progressive symmetrical limb weakness

1.7.2 Refer immediately adults with rapidly (within 4 weeks) progressive symmetrical limb weakness for neurological assessment and assessment of bulbar and respiratory function.

Severe low back pain together with other symptoms

1.7.3 Refer immediately, in line with local pathways, adults who have severe low back pain radiating into the leg and new-onset disturbance of bladder, bowel or sexual function, or new-onset perineal numbness, to have an assessment for cauda equina syndrome.

Rapidly progressive weakness of a single limb or hemiparesis

1.7.4 Refer urgently adults with very rapidly (within hours to days) progressive weakness of a single limb or hemiparesis for investigation, including neuroimaging, in line with the recommendation on brain and central nervous system cancers in adults in the NICE guideline on suspected cancer.

Slowly progressive limb or neck weakness

1.7.5 For adults with slowly (within weeks to months) progressive limb or neck weakness:

  • refer for an assessment for neuromuscular disorders, in line with the recommendations on recognition and referral in the NICE guideline on motor neurone disease

  • refer urgently if there is any evidence of swallowing impairment

  • refer immediately if there is breathlessness at rest or when lying flat.

Lower limb claudication symptoms

1.7.6 Be aware that lower limb claudication symptoms in adults with adequate peripheral circulation might be caused by lumbar canal stenosis and need specialist assessment and imaging.

Recurrent limb or facial weakness as part of a functional neurological disorder

1.7.7 Be aware that, for adults who have been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder by a specialist, recurrent limb weakness might be part of the disorder and the person might not need re‑referral if there are no new neurological signs. New symptoms or signs in adults who have been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder by a specialist should be assessed as described in the relevant sections of this guideline.

1.7.8 Advise adults with limb or facial weakness ascribed to a functional neurological disorder that their limb or facial weakness might fluctuate and evolve over time and might increase during times of stress.

Compression neuropathy

1.7.9 For adults with clear features of compression neuropathy of the radial nerve, common peroneal nerve or ulnar nerve and no features of a nerve root lesion (radiculopathy):

  • refer to orthotic services for a splint

  • review the symptoms after 6 weeks, and refer for neurological assessment if there is no evidence of improvement.

    For adults with features of radiculopathy, see cervical or lumbar radiculopathy.

1.7.10 Advise adults with compression neuropathy to avoid any activity that might lead to further pressure on the affected nerve.

Bell's palsy

1.7.11 Do not routinely refer adults with an uncomplicated episode of Bell's palsy (unilateral lower motor neurone pattern facial weakness affecting all parts of the face and including weakness of eye closure) and no evidence of another medical condition such as middle ear disease.

1.7.12 Advise adults with Bell's palsy about eye care, and explain that Bell's palsy improves at different rates and maximum recovery can take several months.

1.7.13 Consider referring adults with Bell's palsy who have developed symptoms of aberrant reinnervation (including gustatory sweating or jaw-winking) 5 months or more after the onset of Bell's palsy for neurological assessment and possible treatment.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on limb or facial weakness in adults, see rationale.

1.8 Memory failure and cognitive deterioration

Memory problems in adults aged under 50

1.8.1 For adults aged under 50 with memory problems and no other neurological signs:

  • do not routinely refer if brief testing shows memory function to be normal and symptoms are consistent with concentration difficulties

  • be aware that memory problems or concentration difficulties can be caused by:

Memory problems as part of an anxiety disorder or a functional neurological disorder

1.8.2 Be aware that, for adults who have an anxiety disorder or have been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder by a specialist, memory problems and concentration difficulties might be part of the disorder and the person might not need re‑referral if there are no new neurological signs. New symptoms or signs in adults who have been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder by a specialist should be assessed as described in the relevant sections of this guideline.

Concentration difficulties associated with myalgic encephalomyelitis (or encephalopathy)/chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia

1.8.3 Do not routinely refer adults for neurological assessment if they have concentration difficulties associated with myalgic encephalomyelitis (or encephalopathy)/chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.

Progressive memory problems

1.8.4 For guidance on referring adults with progressive memory problems, see initial assessment in non-specialist settings in the NICE guideline on dementia.

Dense amnesia

1.8.5 Do not routinely refer adults with a single episode of dense amnesia (inability to recall the recent past or form new memories) if:

  • the episode lasts less than 8 hours and

  • there is complete recovery and

  • there are no features suggestive of an epileptic seizure (see seizure markers for suspected epilepsy in the NICE guideline on transient loss of consciousness ['blackouts'] in over 16s).

    Advise the person that they have probably had an episode of transient global amnesia and that the recurrence rate is low.

1.8.6 Refer adults with recurrent episodes of dense amnesia to have an assessment for epileptic amnesia.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on memory failure and cognitive deterioration, see rationale.

1.9 Posture distortion in adults

Dystonia

1.9.1 Suspect cervical dystonia in adults who have persistent abnormalities of head or neck posture, with or without head tremor, especially if the symptom improves when the person touches their chin with their hand.

1.9.2 Do not offer cervical imaging to evaluate suspected cervical dystonia in adults.

1.9.3 Be aware that dystonia in adults can affect other parts of the body (for example, it can cause writer's cramp or in‑turned posture of the foot).

1.9.4 Refer adults with suspected dystonia to have an assessment for diagnosis and possible botulinum toxin treatment.

Dystonia as a side effect of medications

1.9.5 Be aware that antipsychotic and antiemetic medicines can trigger or exacerbate dystonia in adults.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on posture distortion in adults, see rationale.

1.10 Sensory symptoms including tingling or numbness in adults

Numbness and weakness

1.10.1 Assess sudden-onset transient unilateral numbness in adults in line with the NICE guideline on stroke and transient ischaemic attack in over 16s.

1.10.2 Refer immediately adults with rapidly progressive (within hours to days) symmetrical numbness and weakness or imbalance to have a neurological assessment.

Sensory disturbances

1.10.3 Refer urgently adults with recurrent, brief (less than 2 minutes), fixed-pattern disturbances of sensation to have an assessment for epilepsy.

1.10.4 Refer adults with persistent, distally predominant altered sensation in the limbs, and brisk deep tendon reflexes, to have an assessment for possible brain or spine disease.

1.10.5 Suspect migraine with aura in adults who have sensory symptoms that occur with or without headache and:

  • are fully reversible and

  • develop over at least 5 minutes and

  • last between 5 and 60 minutes.

    For recommendations on diagnosing and managing migraine with aura, see the NICE guideline on headaches in over 12s.

1.10.6 For adults with persistent, distally predominant ('stocking' or 'glove and stocking') altered sensation in the limbs and depressed deep tendon reflexes:

Numbness and tingling as part of a functional neurological disorder

1.10.7 Be aware that, for adults who have been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder by a specialist, recurrent numbness and tingling might be part of the disorder and the person might not need re‑referral if there are no new neurological signs. New symptoms or signs in adults who have been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder by a specialist should be assessed as described in the relevant sections of this guideline.

1.10.8 Advise adults with tingling and a diagnosis of functional neurological disorder that the tingling might fluctuate and evolve over time and could increase at times of stress.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

1.10.9 Refer in line with local pathways if symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are severe or persistent after initial management.

Numbness, tingling or pain in the outer thigh

1.10.10 Reassure adults with unilateral or bilateral numbness, tingling or pain in the distribution of the lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh (meralgia paraesthetica) that the condition is benign and might improve spontaneously. Consider referring for pain management only if the symptoms are severe.

Cervical or lumbar radiculopathy

1.10.11 Do not routinely refer adults with symptoms of cervical radiculopathy that have remained stable for 6 weeks or more unless:

  • pain is not controlled with analgesics or

  • the symptoms are disabling or

  • one of the following factors is present:

    • age under 20

    • gait disturbance

    • clumsy or weak hands or legs

    • brisk deep tendon reflexes (triceps and lower limbs)

    • extensor plantar responses

    • new-onset disturbance of bladder or bowel function.

1.10.12 Do not routinely refer adults with symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy that have remained stable for 6 weeks or more unless pain is not controlled with analgesics or symptoms are disabling, in line with the NICE guideline on low back pain and sciatica in over 16s.

Tingling or sensory disturbances on waking from sleep

1.10.13 Do not routinely refer adults with recurrent episodes of tingling or sensory disturbance in the limbs that are present on waking from sleep and last less than 10 minutes.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on sensory symptoms including tingling or numbness in adults, see rationale.

1.11 Sleep disorders in adults

Insomnia

1.11.1 Offer advice on sleep hygiene to adults with insomnia.

1.11.2 Do not routinely refer adults with insomnia, jerks on falling asleep or isolated brief episodes of sleep paralysis.

Symptoms that suggest new-onset epileptic seizures

1.11.3 Refer urgently adults with symptoms suggestive of new-onset epileptic seizures in sleep for neurological assessment in line with the NICE guideline on epilepsies.

Excessive sleepiness and narcolepsy

1.11.4 For adults with excessive sleepiness:

  • use the Epworth score together with history of obstructive symptoms in sleep to assess the likelihood of sleep apnoea

  • refer in accordance with local policy

  • if appropriate, offer advice on weight reduction, alcohol consumption and smoking cessation, in line with NICE guidance on obesity, alcohol-use disorders and smoking and tobacco.

1.11.5 Refer adults with narcolepsy, with or without cataplexy, for neurological assessment.

Sleep behaviour disorders

1.11.6 Consider referring adults with persistent symptoms suggestive of sleep behaviour disorders (such as agitated or violent movements that are more complex than a simple jerking motion) for neurological assessment.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on sleep disorders in adults, see rationale.

1.12 Smell or taste problems

Distorted sense of smell or taste

1.12.1 Be aware that sudden-onset distortion of sense of smell or taste in adults is rarely associated with structural neurological abnormality and usually resolves within a few months.

Smell or taste hallucinations

1.12.2 Refer adults with transient, repetitive smell or taste hallucinations to have a neurological assessment for epilepsy.

Loss of sense of smell or taste

1.12.3 Consider neuroimaging for adults with unexplained loss of sense of smell or taste that lasts more than 3 months.

1.12.4 Do not routinely refer adults with loss of sense of smell or taste and normal neuroimaging.

1.12.5 Do not routinely refer adults who lose their sense of smell or taste immediately after a head injury.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on smell or taste problems, see rationale.

1.13 Speech, swallowing and language problems in adults

Sudden-onset speech or language disturbance

1.13.1 Refer immediately adults with sudden-onset speech or language disturbance to have an assessment for a vascular event, in line with local stroke pathways and following the recommendations in the NICE guideline on stroke and transient ischaemic attack in over 16s. [amended July 2019]

Progressive slurred or disrupted speech

1.13.2 For adults with progressive slurred or disrupted speech:

  • refer for an assessment for neuromuscular disorders, in line with the recommendations on recognition and referral in the NICE guideline on motor neurone disease

  • refer urgently if there is any evidence of swallowing impairment

  • refer immediately if there is breathlessness at rest or when lying flat.

Dysphonia

1.13.3 Consider referring adults with isolated and unexplained persistent dysphonia (a quiet, hoarse or wobbly voice) to have an assessment for laryngeal dystonia (involuntary contractions of the vocal cords) if hoarseness caused by structural abnormality or malignancy has been excluded by ear, nose and throat examination.

1.13.4 Be aware that persistent dysphonia in adults may be a presenting symptom of a neurological condition such as Parkinson's disease. For recommendations on the diagnosis and management of Parkinson's disease, see the NICE guideline on Parkinson's disease in adults.

Word-finding difficulties as part of an anxiety disorder or a functional neurological disorder

1.13.5 Be aware that anxiety disorder and functional neurological disorders are the most common causes of minor word-finding difficulties in adults, and people with a diagnosis of anxiety disorder or functional neurological disorder made by a specialist might not need a referral.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on speech, swallowing and language problems in adults, see rationale.

1.14 Tics and involuntary movements in adults

Tics

1.14.1 Do not routinely refer adults with tics (involuntary movements that can be temporarily suppressed at the expense of mounting inner tension) unless the tics are troublesome or accompanied by additional progressive neurological symptoms.

1.14.2 Consider referring adults with a tic disorder for psychological therapy if the disorder distresses them.

1.14.3 Consider referring adults who have completed psychological therapy for a tic disorder to have a neurological assessment if their symptoms are severe and the disorder continues to distress them, but tell the person that:

  • there are not many medicines available to treat a tic disorder

  • the medicines that are available don't always work well and can have serious side effects.

Involuntary movements

1.14.4 Do not routinely refer adults with isolated involuntary movements of the eyelid unless the movements:

  • cause involuntary tight eye closure of both eyes (blepharospasm) or

  • have persisted for more than 3 months.

1.14.5 In adults with involuntary movements of the face, neck, limbs or trunk that cannot be temporarily suppressed by mental concentration:

  • refer for neurological assessment or

  • refer to neurology or an eye clinic, according to local provision, if the person has involuntary tight eye closure of both eyes (blepharospasm).

1.14.6 Do not routinely refer adults with small involuntary muscular twitches (fasciculations) unless these are associated with muscle wasting and weakness or muscle rigidity.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on tics and involuntary movements in adults, see rationale.

1.15 Tremor in adults

Tremor suggesting Parkinson's disease

1.15.1 Refer adults with suspected parkinsonian tremor, other asymmetric tremor, or tremor associated with stiffness, slowness, balance problems or gait disorders for neurological assessment before treatment, in line with the NICE guideline on Parkinson's disease in adults.

Essential tremor

1.15.2 Suspect essential tremor in an adult with symmetrical postural tremor and no symptoms of parkinsonism.

1.15.3 In adults with suspected essential tremor:

1.15.4 Consider referring adults with troublesome tremor of the head to a movement disorder clinic.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on tremor in adults, see rationale.

1.16 Information and support

1.16.1 Follow the principles in the NICE guideline on patient experience in adult NHS services relating to communication, information and shared decision making.

1.16.2 Advise adults with suspected neurological conditions to:

  • check the government's information on driving with medical conditions to find out whether they might have a condition that needs to be notified to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency)

  • consider telling their employer, school or college if their symptoms might affect their ability to work or study.

To find out why the committee made the recommendations on information and support, see rationale.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)