When a disease is discovered nowadays, it needs to be assigned a proper acronym – see CLIPPERS, MELAS, CADASIL. If we were living in the good ole eponymic days of, say, Steele-Richardson-Olszewski, the HaNDL syndrome would be named Swanson-Bartleson-Whisnant – the authors of a 1980s Neurology paper on the condition we covered in our rounds today. Or better: by Stigler’s law it should be named Berg-Williams-Syndrome after the 1995 Neurology article that coined the acronym HaNDL.
By all we know about the inflammatory pathophysiology of migraine, an increase in frequency and intensity of migraine auras should be able to produce a pleocytosis, but this is not the explanation for HaNDL, for it should enjoy all the epidemiologic characteristics of migraine then. And it doesn’t.
It is men of middle age (40-70, not young women) with only rarely (slightly more than chance predicts) any migraine in their history, who – sometimes after a preceding viral illness – suffer a series of episodes over days to weeks that resemble aura (except: less visual symptoms, more aphasia, more sensorimotor disturbances) in their development and migratory nature, but take way too long (a few hours rather than 10-60 minutes), accompanied or followed by headaches that resemble migraine with slightly less phobias (osmo-, kineto-, photo-, phonophobia). The usual workup (CT, MRI, labs) is negative, but there is a lymphocytotic pleocytosis of > 15/µl and often a raised CSF opening pressure.
Of course, as in any case of focal symptoms plus pleocytosis (aka encephalitis), we send off the standard microbiology tests (HIV, TPHA, borreliosis, PCR for HSV, VZV), start acyclovir and maybe ceftriaxone at once and wait until everything comes back negative. Then we are left with the hopes of a spontaneously resolving syndrome – by definition it should take weeks or months to clear.
In my experience, the usual migraine therapy (iv high dose NSAIDs = metamizol or ASS, plus antiemetics – MCP or dimenhydrinate) covers each episode but does not prevent the next. Steroids might, but don’t last long enough. I usually treat with spreading depression drugs (valproate, topiramate) and hope for the best.
The disease certainly is underrecognized, being replaced by “a minor encephalitis”. There should be some studies of autoimmune mechanisms and antibodies, but I know of no proper results yet. So, if you are faced with your next HaNDL why not send of an experimental panel?
- There is one proper collection of 50 cases of pain in Spain in Brain 1997
- The original article of 1995