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Overview of diplopia

Don C Bienfang, MD
Section Editor
Paul W Brazis, MD
Deputy Editor
Janet L Wilterdink, MD


Dysfunction of the extraocular muscles may be the result of an abnormality of the muscle itself or an abnormality of the motor nerve to the muscle. The major symptom associated with this dysfunction is diplopia. The evaluation of neuromuscular diplopia is reviewed here.


Three pairs of extraocular muscles move each eye in three directions: vertically (superior and inferior), horizontally (medial and lateral), and torsionally (intorsion when the eye rotates toward the patient's nose and extorsion when the eye rotates toward the patient's shoulder). The following muscles are responsible for these movements (table 1 and figure 1 and figure 2):

The superior rectus and inferior oblique muscles are responsible for upward vertical movements. The superior rectus acts in all fields of gaze and the inferior oblique on medial gaze.

The inferior rectus and superior oblique muscles are responsible for downward vertical movement. The inferior rectus acts in all fields of gaze, and the superior oblique on medial gaze.

The lateral rectus is responsible for abduction.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jun 20, 2017.
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