Vertigo is a feeling of spinning or whirling when you are not moving. It can also be an exaggerated feeling of motion when your body is still. Vertigo is a symptom that can be caused by many different conditions. Vertigo is different from passing dizziness or lightheadedness.
Inner ear nerves and structures sense the position of your head and body in space. Vertigo is often caused by problems with these nerves and structures. Less commonly, it is due to problems in the brain.
Vertigo can be classified as:
Vertigo of peripheral origin is caused by problems of the inner ear. It is the most common type of vertigo. Causes may include: Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
Meniere's diseasePerilymphatic fistula—an abnormal canal or connection in the inner earOtotoxic medications—some medications can disrupt the inner ear's ability to balanceInfectionAcoustic neuroma—benign tumor of the inner ear
Reduced blood flowInjuryOtosclerosis—a bony growth near the middle ear
Vertigo of central origin is not as common as vertigo of peripheral origin, but it is more serious. This type of vertigo is affects the brainstem or the cerebellum, the region of the brain that controls balance. Causes may include: Brain lesion or tumorsStrokeMigraine headaches
Nervous system disorders such as
Parkinson's disease or
multiple sclerosisEpilepsyExcessive exposure to alcohol, heavy industrial metals, or poisonsInjury
Vertigo is a symptom that may be caused by many conditions. Having any of the conditions will make your more prone to having vertigo.
Common vertigo symptoms include: Sensation of rotationIllusion of movementSensation of feeling pulled in one directionFeeling off-balance
Vertigo is different than lightheadedness. With lightheadedness, there is no sensation of movement. People often feel lightheaded before they faint.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To find the cause of your vertigo, additional tests may be done. Tests may include: Blood testsDix-Hallpike maneuver—particular movement of the head to relieve or stimulate symptomsAuditory testsVision testsBlood pressure test, both lying down and standing up
Electronystagmogram (ENG)—to check for
nystagmus, an abnormal, rhythmic, jerking eye movement
MRI scanRotatory chair test in certain situationsBrainstem auditory evoked potential studies (BAEPS or BAERs)—to check for nerve conduction in the brain auditory nerve and brain stem
Vertigo is a symptom of another medical condition. Treatment will focus managing the underlying medical condition. Efforts may also be used to decrease the symptoms of vertigo. These may include one or more of the following:
In some cases, you may need to stop taking medications that may be causing your vertigo.
Living with vertigo can be challenging, but not impossible. Try these tips:
If you are in a crowded open space, or out in public: Use a cane to help with balance and mobilitySit at one end of the sports field or theater to avoid moving your head back and forthBring a stool or chair so you can sit down when you need toSchedule your day around peak times when places are crowded
Other tips: Don't read or work on a computer if you are movingDon't fly if you have sinus or ear problems due to an infectionAvoid loud background music and harsh lightingTry to eat smaller meals throughout the dayDrink plenty of fluidsAvoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine
There are no current guidelines to prevent vertigo.
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Last reviewed January 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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