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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.

Causes    TOP

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

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 (BPPV)
  • Meniere disease
  • Perilymphatic fistula—an abnormal canal or connection in the inner ear
  • Ototoxic medications—some medications can disrupt the inner ear's ability to balance
  • Infection
  • Acoustic schwannoma (also known acoustic neuroma—a benign tumor of the nerve involved in hearing and balance
  • Reduced blood flow
  • Injury
  • Otosclerosis—a bony growth near the middle ear

Vertigo of Central Origin

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:

Risk Factors    TOP

Vertigo is a symptom that may be caused by many conditions. Having any of the conditions will make you more prone to having vertigo.

Symptoms    TOP

Common vertigo symptoms include:

  • Sensation of rotation
  • Illusion of movement
  • Sensation of feeling pulled in one direction
  • Feeling of being off-balance

Vertigo is different than lightheadedness. With lightheadedness, there is no sensation of movement. People often feel lightheaded before they faint.

Diagnosis    TOP

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 tests
  • Dix-Hallpike maneuver—particular movement of the head to relieve or stimulate symptoms
  • Auditory tests
  • Vision tests
  • Blood pressure test, both lying down and standing up
  • Electronystagmogram (ENG)—to check for nystagmus, an abnormal, rhythmic, jerking eye movement
  • MRI scan
  • Rotatory chair test in certain situations
  • Brainstem auditory evoked potential studies (BAEPS or BAERs)—to check for nerve conduction in the brain auditory nerve and brain stem

Treatment    TOP

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:


  • Antihistamines
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Anticholinergics
  • Antiemetics

In some cases, you may need to stop taking medications that may be causing your vertigo.

Lifestyle Changes

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 mobility
  • Sit at one end of the sports field or theater to avoid moving your head back and forth
  • Bring a stool or chair so you can sit down when you need to
  • Schedule your day around peak times when places are crowded

Other tips:

  • Don't read or work on a computer if you are moving
  • Don't fly if you have sinus or ear problems due to an infection
  • Avoid loud background music and harsh lighting
  • Try to eat smaller meals throughout the day
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guidelines to prevent vertigo.


American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Vestibular Disorders Association


BC Balance and Dizziness Disorders Society
Canadian Academy of Audiology


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Last reviewed February 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 9/10/2016

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