What is Vertigo?

Vertigo is a condition where you feel as if you are spinning. It can also cause you to feel as if you are moving when you are actually staying still. Vertigo is not a disease. It is a symptom of certain medical conditions or a side effect of certain medications.

The symptoms of vertigo can affect your ability to drive, read, and perform other everyday activities. Vertigo can be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Seek immediate medical care if you experience vertigo that is new or sudden.

If you have experienced vertigo in the past or if you are looking to reduce your risk of vertigo, learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

What Causes Vertigo?

Vertigo can be caused by a number of medical conditions. Most of the time, vertigo is caused by a problem with the inner ear. Vertigo can also be caused by a problem with the nervous system.

Causes of vertigo include:

  • Dehydration
  • Stroke
  • Head trauma
  • Ear infection
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
  • Migraine
  • Encephalitis
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Migraine aura
  • Tumor
  • Vascular disease
  • Blood vessel disorder
  • Meniere’s disease (inner ear conditions)
  • Tumor in the brain

Vertigo can also be a side effect of certain medications. Anticholinergics (medications that reduce the amount of acetylcholine in your body) can cause vertigo by slowing down the communication between your vestibular system and the brain.

Other medications that can cause vertigo include:

  • Antimigraine medications
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Antifungals
  • Antidepressants for Parkinson’s disease
  • Antithyroid medications
  • Diuretics
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Tranylcypromine
  • Carbamazepine

What Are the Symptoms of Vertigo?

Symptoms of vertigo can vary greatly. You may experience vertigo in one ear or both ears. You may also feel as if you are spinning. Vertigo can also cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Problems controlling your bladder
  • Problems controlling your bowels
  • Problems with balance
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye problems
  • Ear pain
  • Tinnitus
  • Difficulty concentrating

How Is Vertigo Diagnosed?

Your doctor will begin by asking you questions about your medical history and current symptoms. They will likely perform a physical exam. They may also perform a neurological exam.

Your doctor may order imaging tests to help rule out other causes of vertigo. This could include:

  • Brain MRI
  • CT scan
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Echocardiogram with Doppler
  • Nerve conduction studies
  • Electronystagmogram
  • Electronystagmogram with canal paresis
  • Electronystagmogram with canal paresis and canalith repositioning
  • VEMP testing (Vestibular evoked myogenic potential testing)

Your doctor may also order blood work to check for other conditions that may be causing vertigo. They will also take your medical history to determine if you have other health conditions.

How Is Vertigo Treated?

The goal of vertigo treatment is to ease symptoms and prevent the condition from getting worse. Vertigo can get worse if you don’t treat the condition.

If vertigo is caused by a condition like BPPV, your doctor will likely recommend a device that can help to break up the crystals in your ear. This can range from wearing a small device at night to wearing a device that you wear all day.

Your doctor may also recommend the following treatments:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the swelling of your inner ear
  • Anticonvulsants to treat migraine
  • Antiseizure medications to reduce the frequency of your migraines
  • Antidepressants to treat depression
  • Botulinum toxin injections to treat migraine
  • Epley maneuver (maneuver) to treat vertigo
  • Vestibular rehabilitation therapy to improve your balance
  • Physical therapy to improve your balance
  • Medication to treat vertigo in pregnancy

Can Vertigo Be Prevented?

There are some things you can do to reduce your risk for vertigo. You can also help prevent vertigo by practicing good posture, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly.

If you have vertigo, try to avoid wearing your headband in front of your ears. This can make the condition worse. You can also wear a hat or other headgear that fits loosely on your head.

If you have vertigo caused by an inner ear problem, do not lie down immediately after you feel dizzy. Wait a few minutes and then get up slowly. This will prevent you from falling.

You should avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine after you have vertigo. Alcohol can make your vertigo worse. Caffeine can also make you dizzy and cause vertigo.

You should also avoid sleeping on your back. Sleeping on your back puts more pressure on your inner ear and can make your condition worse.

Diagnosing Vertigo

If you have vertigo, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam. They may also order imaging tests to help rule out other causes of vertigo. Your doctor will likely also perform a neurological exam. They may also perform blood tests to check for other conditions that may be causing vertigo.

Outlook

The outlook for vertigo depends on the underlying cause. If vertigo is caused by an inner ear problem, your prognosis is usually good. If the vertigo is caused by a problem with the nervous system, it may not respond to treatment.

You may need to learn new skills to reduce your risk of vertigo. This may include learning to use a headband, wearing a hat or hat liner, or using a walking stick.

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