What is Vertigo?

Vertigo is a feeling of dizziness, or a sensation of spinning, as if you’re moving in a circle. Vertigo can make it difficult to stand, sit or walk, and it can also make it difficult to move your head.

There are a variety of causes of vertigo, but the most common cause is a problem with the inner ear. The vestibulocochlear nerve, which connects to the inner ear, is responsible for controlling balance. Damage to this nerve can result in vertigo, dizziness, imbalance and other symptoms.

The inner ear is made up of three semicircular canals, each of which provides a sense of movement. The inner ear contains fluid-filled sacs called the vestibule, which is responsible for the sense of balance. When the semicircular canals are damaged, balance can become disrupted, resulting in vertigo.

Vertigo can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, including:

  • Meniere’s disease
  • Migraine
  • Stroke
  • Tumors in the brain, such as acoustic neuroma

What are the Symptoms of Vertigo?

People with vertigo can experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Blurred vision
  • Problems with balance

What Causes Vertigo?

Vertigo can have several causes, but the most common cause is a problem with the vestibulocochlear nerve, which connects to the inner ear. This nerve helps to maintain balance and to sense movement and position. A variety of conditions, including Meniere’s disease, can lead to the damage of the vestibulocochlear nerve.

Vertigo caused by a ruptured or compressed artery in the brain or by a stroke can be life-threatening.

Vertigo can also result from a problem in the inner ear. This nerve is responsible for detecting movement and maintaining balance. When the vestibular nerve is damaged, a person can have vertigo, dizziness, imbalance and other symptoms.

What are the Risk Factors for Vertigo?

There are many risk factors for vertigo, including:

  • Age. Vertigo is more common among older adults.
  • Meniere’s disease. This is a condition that can cause vertigo and ear ringing, tinnitus and hearing loss.
  • Head injury
  • Infections
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • A history of migraine

Vertigo can also result from a problem with the vestibular nerve, which connects to the inner ear. Certain conditions, such as stroke, can also cause this form of vertigo.

Other conditions that can affect the vestibular nerve include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positioning vertigo (BPPV), a condition that causes vertigo by spinning in a circle, often when standing up.
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPVP), a condition that causes vertigo by spinning in a circle, often when sitting up.
  • M ni re’s disease, which causes vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus.
  • Migraine, which can cause vertigo and headaches.

How Is Vertigo Diagnosed?

Diagnosing the cause of vertigo can be challenging, as many conditions can cause the same symptoms.

Your healthcare provider will use a variety of tests to help determine the cause of your vertigo. These may include:

  • Physical examination. Your healthcare provider will examine your ears, head and neck to look for signs of a problem with the inner ear. They may use an otoscope, which is a small instrument that allows them to examine the ear.
  • Hearing test. This test measures the loudness of sounds and the clarity of your hearing.
  • Visual acuity test. This test uses a series of letters to measure how well you can see at various distances.
  • Balance test. This test is used to evaluate your balance and to see if your vertigo is caused by a problem with your inner ear. For this test, your provider will stand you up and ask you to walk across a room. They will also ask you to turn your head to the left or right. This will be recorded.
  • MRI scan. This test uses a large magnet to help produce a detailed image of the inner ear.

How Is Vertigo Treated?

The treatment for vertigo depends on the cause of your condition. Your provider will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan.

The treatment for vertigo caused by a problem with the vestibulocochlear nerve, such as Meniere’s disease, is typically medication, although surgery may be an option. Migraine, stroke and Tumors in the Brain may also require treatment with medication.

If vertigo is caused by a problem with the vestibular nerve, such as BPPV, the treatment may include:

  • Physical therapy, to help you maintain your balance and improve your coordination
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®)

Surgery is rarely needed to treat vertigo.

How Can I Prevent Vertigo?

You can help prevent vertigo by following these steps:

  • Avoid wearing earphones or headphones for long periods of time.
  • Avoid activities that cause you to bend forward, such as playing a sport.
  • Avoid certain foods, such as alcohol, caffeine and chocolate.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid activities that create a sudden change in your body position, such as playing tennis.
  • Avoid activities that cause you to lie down, such as sleeping on a couch.

What’s the takeaway?

Vertigo is a sensation that you’re moving in a circle. It can make it difficult to stand, sit or walk, and it can also make it difficult to move your head. Vertigo can be caused by a variety of conditions, including Meniere’s disease, stroke, Tumors in the Brain and migraine.

There are a variety of risk factors for vertigo, including age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and head injuries. Vertigo can also be caused by a problem with the vestibular nerve, such as BPPV or BPVP

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