Have you ever experienced a sudden feeling of dizziness or spins? Perhaps you felt the world was spinning out of control around you, even though you were standing still.
Most people experience dizziness at some time or another, but some people also experience recurring vertigo. This is a common condition that affects millions of adults each year.
“Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness characterized by the sudden sensation that you or the world around you is spinning or moving,” said Bruce Stewart, MD, an ear, nose and throat doctor with Banner - University Medicine . “It’s important to note that vertigo is a symptom, like a headache, and not a disease, so it’s important to find the root cause for this dizziness as treatment depends on the cause.”
While it is not a medical condition, vertigo can still be a frightening experience. Because this sensation causes unsteadiness, it can also lead to accidents and injury.
Read on to understand more about common causes of vertigo, its symptoms and how to find relief.
What is vertigo?
“Dizziness and vertigo are often used interchangeably by patients,” Dr. Stewart said. “It is a symptom of lots of health conditions rather than a disease.”
When you experience vertigo, it feels like things around you are spinning, tilting or moving while you are in one place or motionless.
Attacks of vertigo can happen suddenly and last for a few seconds, or they can last much longer.
“If at any time your dizziness affects your speech or vision, you should seek immediate medical attention as this could be a sign of something more serious, such as a stroke or heart attack,” Dr. Stewart warned.
What causes vertigo?
Many parts of your body work together to keep you balanced. When one part of that system is off, you can feel dizzy or off-balance.
Recurring episodes of vertigo that do not go away on their own may be caused by a problem with the vestibular system, inner ear or certain parts of the brain.
“The inner ear is the peripheral balance system, which senses motion such as tilting and rotation,” Dr. Stewart said. “A sensor in the ear then sends the information to your brain to help us maintain balance. Certain things can affect the signals and cause people to feel dizzy.”
Types of vertigo
The two main causes of recurring dizziness are peripheral vertigo and central vertigo.
Far more common, peripheral vertigo occurs because there is a problem with your inner ear (vestibular nerve) that controls balance. This type of vertigo is typically triggered by sudden changes in head positions and/or head movement. It doesn’t usually affect walking or coordination.
Central vertigo occurs because of a problem in a part of your brain. This type of vertigo is not affected by your head position but may cause issues with walking and loss of coordination.
Causes of peripheral vertigo include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV is the most common cause of peripheral vertigo. It is caused when tiny calcium deposits, or stones, inside the inner ear canal get loose or move to places they shouldn’t, such as the semicircular canal.
- Vestibular neuritis. This inner ear disorder is caused when the vestibular nerve, which sends signals from the ear to the brain, becomes inflamed or irritated.
- Ménière’s disease. This disease is a chronic ear disorder that can lead to hearing loss and recurring episodes of vertigo.
Causes of central vertigo include:
- Multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Many people diagnosed with MS will experience dizziness.
- Migraines. A vestibular migraine is a nervous system problem that causes repeated vertigo in people.
- Cardiovascular disease. Reduced blood flow to the inner ear can cause vertigo.
- Certain drugs. Some seizure medications and alcohol can cause dizziness.
- Head injury. About half of people with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) have dizziness and loss of balance at some point in their recovery.
How is vertigo diagnosed?
If you have repeated episodes of vertigo that can’t be explained by another condition, see your health care provider. An accurate diagnosis is important, and early treatment can provide better results.
“To determine if it’s related to the inner ear or not requires a complete evaluation from a specialist. This may include an audiogram to evaluate hearing and an electronystagmography (ENG) to evaluate nystagmus (involuntary rapid eye movement).” Dr. Stewart said. “Additional tests may include blood tests and imaging studies, such as a CT scan or MRI, depending on those results.”
What treatment options can help with vertigo?
When it comes to treating vertigo, treatment depends on the root cause. Some types of vertigo get better on their own, while some people may require treatment for an underlying problem.
Vertigo treatment may include:
- Repositioning head maneuvers, also known as Canalith repositioning or the Epley maneuver, move the head through a series of positions to help move the calcium deposits out of the semicircular canal and back to their normal position.
- Physical therapy to improve balance and inner ear issues.
- Medications to help improve symptoms of vertigo.
“Ménière’s is most often treated with diet and diuretics,” Dr. Stewart said. “Many providers also recommend avoiding tobacco, caffeine and salt.”
Surgery is rare but may be necessary if other treatments are ineffective.
Vertigo refers to dizziness and feelings as if the room is spinning. It is often caused by problems in the inner ear and the brain.
If you are concerned about sudden and repeated bouts of dizziness, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or an ear, nose and throat specialist. They can evaluate your hearing and balance and run additional tests to determine what is causing you to spin.
To find a Banner Health specialist in your area, visit bannerhealth.com.