Vertigo is closely related to dizziness, but involves the perception of actually seeing the room spin about you, similar to what happens when you spin around rapidly and then stop. Often, vertigo is accompanied by nausea and a loss of balance. Vertigo may pass quickly, or it may last for hours or even days.
There are many possible causes of vertigo including motion sickness, infection in the inner ear, vision problems, head injury, insufficient blood supply to the brain, and brain tumors. A condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo leads to attacks of vertigo triggered by certain head positions; its cause is believed to be deposits of calcium in the inner ear. Another condition, Meniere's disease, is characterized by sudden, intense attacks of vertigo often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, along with ringing in the ears and progressive deafness. Its cause is unknown.
Conventional treatments for vertigo depend upon the cause and severity of the condition. Drugs for motion sickness and mild vertigo of any cause include meclizine, dimenhydrinate, and perphenazine. Scopolamine is prescribed for severe motion sickness. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is often treated through a series of exercises which help to alleviate symptoms.1,2 For Meniere's disease, changes in diet are often recommended (including limiting sodium, sugar, and alcohol intake), sometimes in combination with diuretic drugs.
Several natural treatments have been tried for vertigo; however, the scientific evidence for these treatments is very preliminary at this time. Note: Treatments (such as ginger) used specifically for motion sickness are discussed in the motion sickness article.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 67 people with vertigo found that 160 mg of Ginkgo biloba extract per day significantly reduced symptoms compared to placebo.3 At the end of the 3-month study, 47% of the ginkgo group had completely recovered, as compared to only 18% of the placebo group. For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full ginkgo article.
This topic is also discussed in the homeopathy database, in the vertigo chapter.
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3. Haguenauer JP, Cantenot F, Koskas H, et al. Treatment of balance disorders using Ginkgo biloba extract. A multicentre, double-blind, drug versus placebo study [translated from French]. Presse Med. 1986;15:1569–1572.
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Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015