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by Ron Kurtus (27 October 2006)

Vertigo is the feeling that you or your environment is in motion or spinning. It is different than the lightheadedness of feeling dizzy, although dizziness also often occurs after a vertigo occurrence. Vertigo is not the fear of heights.

The most common cause of vertigo is a tiny stone that is loose in your inner ear, but it wise to consult with a physician to make sure it isn't something more serious, such as a stroke. Medications and precautions can be used to treat the various forms of vertigo.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Health Disclaimer


Vertigo is the feeling that either you or things around you are moving or even spinning, such that you feel disoriented. You may also have suffer nausea or vomiting and start to sweat. Abnormal rhythmic eye movements contribute to the sensation of things moving. This should not be confused with symptoms of lightheadedness, although afterwards you may feel somewhat dizzy.

In some cases, you may have hearing loss and a ringing sensation in your ears. Visual disturbances, weakness, difficulty speaking, decreased level of consciousness and difficulty walking are also possible symptoms in more serious vertigo episodes.

The duration of a vertigo attack can be from minutes to even hours. Sometimes the attack can occur only once in a while. In other people is can be a constant symptom for extended periods.

Vertigo is sometimes incorrectly stated as the fear of heights.


Vertigo usually results from a problem with the nerves and the structures of the balance mechanism in your inner ear or vestibular system that senses movement and changes in your head position.

Most common form

The most common form of vertigo is characterized by the sensation of motion initiated by sudden head movements. This form is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. You may get intense, brief episodes of vertigo after changing the position of your head. This often can happen when you turn over in bed or sit up in the morning.

This form of vertigo occurs when normal calcium carbonate crystal deposits in the fluid of your inner ear break loose and fall into the wrong part of the inner ear canals. These particles can stimulate the sensors in your inner ear, thus producing an episode of vertigo.

These crystal deposits or stones may be a natural result of aging. Trauma to your head also may lead to this type of vertigo.

Inner ear inflammation

An inflammation within the inner ear may also cause vertigo. This is known as labyrinthitis. This condition is characterized by the sudden onset of vertigo and may be associated with hearing loss.

Signs and symptoms of inflammation of the inner ear include sudden, intense vertigo that may persist for several days, including nausea and vomiting. It can be so severe as to be incapacitating and require bed rest to minimize the symptoms.

Fortunately, the inflammation subsides and usually clears up on its own. The cause of this condition may be a viral infection.

Meniere disease

Meniere disease consists of episodes of vertigo, ringing in the ears and hearing loss. People with this disease may have a sudden onset of severe vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss, as well as periods in which they are free of symptoms.

This disease involves the excessive buildup of fluid in your inner ear. It is characterized by sudden episodes of vertigo that may last 30 minutes to an hour or longer. Other signs and symptoms include the feeling of fullness in your ear, buzzing or ringing in your ear or tinnitus, and fluctuating hearing loss. The exact cause of Meniere's disease is unknown.


Acoustic neuroma is a type of tumor causing vertigo. Symptoms include vertigo with one-sided ringing in the ear and hearing loss. Such a tumor is a non-cancerous or benign growth on the acoustic nerve that connects the inner ear to your brain.

Signs and symptoms of an acoustic neuroma may include dizziness, loss of balance, hearing loss and tinnitus. A CAT scan is usually necessary to detect the tumor.

Cerebellar hemorrhage

Vertigo can be caused by decreased blood flow to the brain and base of the brain. Bleeding into the back of the brain is known as cerebellar hemorrhage and is characterized by vertigo, headache, difficulty walking, and inability to look toward the side of the bleed. The result is that the person's eyes gaze away from the side with the problem. Walking is also extremely impaired.


Migraine headaches may also result in vertigo. The vertigo is usually followed by the headache. People who experience a vestibular migraine are very sensitive to motion. Dizziness and vertigo caused by a migraine may be triggered by turning your head quickly, driving or riding in a vehicle, being in a crowded or confusing place, or even watching movement on TV.

Attacks of vertigo from migraines can last from a few minutes to several days.


Head trauma and neck injury, such as whiplash, may also result in vertigo. It usually goes away on its own.

Serious problem

Rarely, vertigo can be a symptom of a more serious neurological problem such as a stroke, brain hemorrhage or multiple sclerosis.


Any signs and symptoms of vertigo warrant an evaluation by your doctor. The majority of cases of vertigo are harmless. Although vertigo can be extremely debilitating, it is easily treated with prescription medication. Have your doctor check out any new signs and symptoms of vertigo to rule out any potentially serious or life-threatening causes.

Common treatment

Vertigo can be treated with medicine you take by mouth, through medicine placed on the skin (as a patch), or drugs given through an injection.


In addition to the drugs used for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, several exercises may be recommended to treat the condition. One exercise consists of sitting on the edge of a table and then lying down to one side until the vertigo resolves. This is followed by sitting up and lying down on the other side, again until the vertigo ceases. This exercise is repeated until the vertigo is no longer inducible.

This treatment based on the idea that the condition is caused by small stones in the inner ear. Your head is repositioned to move the stones to their normal position. This maneuver should be repeated until the abnormal eye movements are no longer visible.

Meniere disease

For vertigo caused by Meniere disease, you may be placed on a low-salt diet and require medication used to increase urine output.

Self-Care at Home

Home therapy should only be undertaken if you have already been diagnosed with vertigo and are under the close supervision of a doctor.


People whose balance is affected by vertigo should take precautions to prevent injuries from falls. Those with risk factors for stroke should control their high blood pressure and high cholesterol and stop smoking. Someone with Meniere disease should limit added salt to their diet.


Vertigo is the feeling that you or your environment is in motion or spinning. It is different than the lightheadedness of feeling dizzy. The most common cause of vertigo is a tiny stone that is loose in your inner ear. It wise to consult with a physician to make sure it isn't something more serious, such as a stroke. Medications can be used to treat the various forms of vertigo. (Also see Vertigo Case Studies for examples of the disease.)

Be alert to your symptoms

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Mayo Clinic - Senior Health - Dizziness

eMedicine Health - Vertigo

General Health Resources


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