May 28, 2016

Answers FAQ

Vertigo and Balance Disorders FAQs

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP, on March 7, 2016

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Q:What is vertigo?

A:Vertigo is a type of dizziness that causes a spinning sensation.

A person may feel as if the room or environment around them is moving, even when they themselves are still. Vertigo can be accompanied by lightheadedness, and it can lead to nausea or vomiting. There are several medical disorders that can cause vertigo, but the most common is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Benign = not life-threatening; paroxysmal = sudden, brief spells; positional = triggered by head movements.

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Q:Vertigo is most commonly associated with which body part?

A:An inner ear problem is the cause of most cases of vertigo.

The most common type of vertigo, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), is a result of tiny calcium particles (canaliths) clumping in the inner ear. The dysfunction of the canaliths when the head changes position sends signals to the brain that make a person feel as if their environment is spinning.

Another cause of vertigo is Meniere's disease, a disorder that causes fluid buildup in the inner ear that can lead to episodes of vertigo and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Viral infections in the ear can lead to disorders called vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis, which cause inflammation of the inner ear and can result in vertigo.

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Q:What causes vertigo?

A:Balance and hearing disorders, head trauma, migraines, and cold viruses or ear infection are all common causes of vertigo.

Other causes may include medications or blood pressure problems. What all these conditions have in common is that they affect the inner ear, which helps keep us balanced. When there is a dysfunction of the inner ear, this can affect the sense of balance, leading to symptoms of vertigo, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of balance.

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Q:What are symptoms of vertigo and other balance disorders?

A:The most common symptoms of vertigo and other balance disorders include a spinning sensation, the feeling of tilting or swaying, or feeling unbalanced.

Other symptoms of vertigo include nausea or vomiting, headache, sensitivity to light or noise, double vision, feeling weak, shortness of breath, sweating, or a fast heart beat.

Symptoms of vertigo may last just a few seconds, or may persist for hours to days. Moving your head, changing body position, coughing, or sneezing may cause symptoms to worsen.

If you experience vertigo symptoms see your doctor to determine the cause as it may be a sign of a serious medical condition.

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Q:Eyes move abnormally to try to compensate for abnormal balance signals. True or false?

A:True. One of the ways benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is diagnosed is by noting a symptom called nystagmus, which is involuntary eye movements often triggered by inner ear stimulation.

Basically, the eyes try to compensate for the spinning sensation by moving, usually in an abnormal jerking motion. A doctor can move the patient's head to try to provoke the symptom of nystagmus to aid in diagnosis.

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Q:The Epley maneuver is an effective treatment for vertigo. True or false?

A:True.

The Epley maneuver, also called the canalith repositioning procedure, may be used to treat BPPV. This 10 to 15 minute procedure is usually first done by a doctor or physical therapist and can be very effective in treating this type of vertigo. In some cases, patients may be instructed on how to do the procedure themselves at home. For many patients, the Epley maneuver can provide relief from vertigo symptoms within a week. Sometimes it only takes one treatment. If the Epley maneuver does not work, it may mean you don't have the most common form of BPPV, or you may have a different type of vertigo.

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