Karen Schroeder, MS, RD
Vertigo is a feeling of spinning or whirling when you are still. It is a symptom that can be caused by many different issues.
Vertigo is different from passing dizziness or lightheadedness.
The inner ear and nerves sense the position of your head and body in space. Vertigo is often caused by problems with these nerves and structures. It may also be due to problems in the brain but this is rare.
There are two main types of vertigo including:
Vertigo of Peripheral Origin
Problems of the inner ear are cause of this kind of vertigo. It is the most common type of vertigo. Causes may include:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
Perilymphatic fistula—an abnormal canal or connection in the inner ear
Ototoxic medications—some medications can disrupt the inner ear's ability to balance
—a benign tumor of the nerve involved in hearing and balance
Reduced blood flow
—a bony growth near the middle ear
Vertigo of Central Origin
This type is less common but more serious. Changes in the brainstem or the cerebellum cause this type of vertigo. These parts of the brain control balance. Changes can be caused by:
The conditions above will increase your risk of vertigo.
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 feeling of movement.
You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Tests may be done to look for a cause. Tests may include:
Head maneuvers—the doctor will move your head is specific ways. Your response may help to relieve symptoms.
Hearing and vision tests
Blood pressure test, both lying down and standing up
Electronystagmogram (ENG)—to check for
nystagmus, an abnormal, rhythmic, jerking eye movement
Rotatory chair test
Brainstem auditory evoked potential studies (BAEPS or BAERs)—to check for nerve conduction in the brain auditory nerve and brain stem
Treatment will focus on the cause of the vertigo. Treating the cause may stop the vertigo.
Medicine may help to lessen or stop the vertigo. Options 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 hard but not impossible. Try these tips:
If you are out in public:
Use a cane to help with balance.
Sit at one end of the sports field or theater. Avoid moving your head back and forth.
Bring a stool or chair so you can sit down when you need to.
Try to avoid peak times when places are crowded.
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.
There are no current steps to prevent vertigo.
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Vestibular Disorders Association
http://www.vestibular.org CANADIAN RESOURCES:
BC Balance and Dizziness Disorders Society
Canadian Academy of Audiology
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Last reviewed March 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 10/1/2018