Vertigo is the sensation of spinning or dizziness, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, that occurs as a result of problems within the brain or the inner ear. People with vertigo feel as if their surroundings are moving although no movement is actually occurring. Vertigo is one of the most common health problems in the United States; it affects many adults during their lifetimes.

Symptoms of Vertigo

A typical vertigo patient has a sudden onset of symptoms, which occur intermittently, and last for a few seconds to a few minutes. Symptoms of vertigo may include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Imbalance
  • Nausea
  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ears

It is important for patients with vertigo to take special precautions to prevent injury to themselves or others.

Causes of Vertigo

Not all causes of vertigo are known, but there are two types of the condition that have specific causes.

Peripheral Vertigo

Peripheral vertigo is caused by problems with the vestibular labyrinth, the part of the inner ear that controls balance. There also may be problems with the vestibular nerve, which connects the inner ear to the brainstem. Peripheral vertigo can be caused by:

  • Certain medications
  • Ear infections
  • Inner-ear inflammation
  • Head injury
  • Blood circulation disorders that affect the inner ear or brain
  • Aging

Central Vertigo

Central vertigo is caused by problems within the brain. Problems may be associated with the brainstem or the cerebellum. Additional symptoms of central vertigo may include slurred speech, facial paralysis or blurred vision. Central vertigo may be caused by:

  • Certain medications
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraine headaches
  • Tumors
  • Stroke

Diagnosis of Vertigo

Diagnosing vertigo can be a complicated procedure. Because dizziness and vertigo are symptoms of many conditions, it is often hard to pinpoint their exact cause. Depending on symptoms, a series of audiologic, vestibular and movement tests may be performed. These diagnostic tests may include:

  • Hearing tests
  • Neurological tests
  • Blood tests
  • Electronystagmogram (measures eye movement/muscle control)
  • MRI scan
  • Posturography (tests balance)

Treatment for Vertigo

Treatment for vertigo depends on its cause. Treating the underlying cause eliminates balance problems for many people. Any underlying disorders associated with the brain must be addressed immediately. Other treatment options to help to relieve symptoms may include:

  • Balance-training exercises
  • Lifestyle changes (such as limiting alcohol and caffeine)
  • Antibiotics for ear infections
  • Anti-vertigo and anti-nausea medications

A vestibular rehabilitation therapist can assist patients by developing individualized treatment plans that combine head, body and eye exercises that decrease dizziness and nausea. Surgery on the vestibular organs may be recommended for patients whose symptoms cannot be controlled by more conservative methods.

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