What is Vertigo?
Vertigo is the term used to describe an unusual sense of motion. It makes it feel as though you or your surrounding environment is spinning or moving.
Those affected by vertigo may find it difficult to keep their balance and it can have severe impact on daily life. Yet for some, the feeling might be perceived only as a minor annoyance.
Doctors generally consider vertigo to be a symptom of other conditions rather than a disease in itself. It can also develop following an injury or trauma. (1)
Causes of vertigo fall into two categories: peripheral or central. It generally occurs when an illness or injury disrupts the body’s sense of motion. (2)
Peripheral vertigo can occur due to problems in the inner ear (vestibular labyrinth or semicircular canals) which control balance. These may be damaged due to a particular condition or infection.
Central vertigo happens as a result of issues or conditions in the brain. This usually occurs in the stem or the cerebellum (back of the head) resulting from damaged blood vessels or tumors.
The most prevalent type is benign positional or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This occurs when the fluid which helps to control balance begins to move within the inner ear. (3)
BPPV is triggered when a small piece of dense, crystal-like calcium breaks off from the side of the canal and falls into the fluid. This will cause a stir in movements, sending mixed signals to the brain about body positions. This then throws the affected person off balance.
Vertigo can have various causes. Sometimes it results from infections in the ear, such as labyrinthitis or from a head injury. In other cases, it can be an inherited condition.
Patients describe the sensations felt during BPPV as if they are spinning, or everything around them is moving. Some may perceive that objects themselves jump or move.
Other symptoms of vertigo can include:
Dizziness is a momentary loss of balance or equilibrium. This can occur following sudden movements or a drop in blood pressure. It typically acts as an “umbrella term” used to describe any abnormal sensations associated with motion. (4)
It can be perceived as an unsteady or trembling sensation in the body which for some might be very uncomfortable. However, it usually doesn’t last long.
Vision plays an essential role in the body’s sense of positioning. The mind utilizes sight as a guide to evaluate surroundings and any impairments can confuse these abilities. (5)
When bouts of vertigo arise, it may cause disturbances with vision. Those affected might have trouble focusing. Objects might seem blurry at first sight and may take a few minutes before becoming sharp. (6)
Some people experience double vision. This usually develops following disturbances in the brain causing central vertigo.
Central vertigo can also lead to weakening of eye movements. This is usually the case when an infection such as labyrinthitis caused the symptom. It can create an impairment where nerves can initiate erratic eye movements, which may also contribute to trouble focusing. (7)
Hearing impairment can involve one or both ears. Generally, those affected have developed an infection in the ear, such as labyrinthitis. However, it may also be the result of an inner ear disorder known as ménière’s disease. (8)
Ménière’s disease is a disorder causing excessive fluid to build up in the inner part of the ear, (the labyrinth) where the semicircular canals are located. (9)
The disease will interfere with balance as well as hearing signals to the brain. This will cause confusion and can lead to severe vertigo.
Loss of Balance
When fluids in the inner ear are impacted, this causes signals to the brain to become impaired. One result is a loss of balance.
This can also present as a manifestation of ménière’s disease and may be so severe it can cause the affected to fall over. (10)
Slurred speech may be a result of damage to the coordination of signals between the brain and vocal cord to the mouth and tongue. These four elements are vital for accurate language. (11)
It is generally a symptom of central vertigo and has various causes such as stroke or tumors. (12)
Those affected might exhibit slowed speech, uneven volume or limited movement of facial muscles and tongue.
Nausea and Vomiting
The affected might perceive this as a debilitating symptom which may be triggered by even slight movements.
Vertigo can be classified as mild, moderate and severe depending on the symptoms. It is essential for doctors to evaluate the severity in order to prescribe the correct treatment. (14)
Those affected by mild vertigo may not experience any symptoms. If they do present, signs generally won’t last long and might be regarded as nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
Moderate vertigo can present with frequent attacks during specific head movements; the affected might show unsteadiness in balance.
Severe vertigo can be debilitating for the sufferer. Any slight movements of the head may trigger prolonged attacks of dizziness and nausea, and possibly bouts of vomiting.
Severe cases are sometimes continuous, lasting for extended periods of up to a few months or even years. Bouts may be repetitive over time.
Vertigo is often seen as a symptom of other conditions. It can be a difficult diagnosis to pinpoint as it may arise from a range of serious causes which require intensive treatment. (15)
When a patient presents with vertigo, doctors will first and foremost try to rule out any critical conditions. They do this by asking for details of symptoms, previous medical treatments and patient and family history.
Doctors can generally determine a possible cause based on the specific symptoms. However, further testing is usually required to reach a final diagnosis. These can involve head scans, blood tests or caloric stimulation to check for damages in the nerves connected to hearing and balance.
Treatment of vertigo depends on severity and cause. Some cases may resolve on their own, while others might need intensive care.
Vertigo can be treated with medicine to help suppress and minimize symptoms. (16)
Medical interventions can include certain types of antihistamines or prochlorperazine. These may help treat nausea and relax sensations of spinning or moving. In cases where infection is the culprit, antibiotics might be prescribed.
If a patient suffers from prolonged bouts of vomiting, doctors may administer intravenous fluids (IV) to prevent dehydration. (17)
Some patients will benefit from exercise to help ease symptoms and may even keep them at bay for a while.
Various movements may be prescribed such as the epley maneuver. This involves tilting or turning the head in order to push causes of symptoms to another location. (18)
A different motion called the brandt-daroff exercise might be suitable if the previous one failed to work, or if the patient has neck or back problems. This involves a repeated set of sitting up straight and slowly returning to a lying position on one side. (19)
During a bout of vertigo, it can be a good idea to lay down in a dark, quiet room and avoid swift movements; this may help ease symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. (20)
It is also vital to stay safe throughout an attack of vertigo. Doctors recommend avoiding sudden movements or changes in position until the dizziness subsides. And if possible, withdraw from physical activity to prevent injuries.
What is vertigo? Vertigo can be defined as a sensation of twirling or turning; it may also be characterized as severe dizziness. Those affected might observe the surrounding environment as though its moving and may lose balance.
What are the signs of vertigo? Symptoms depend on the cause and severity. In mild cases, signs might be a minor annoyance. While moderate to severe cases can be presented with rigorous bouts of vomiting, slurred speech, vision and hearing impairments as well as loss of balance.
How do you develop vertigo? Vertigo can have various causes. It’s generally due to disruptions of the inner ear which control balance and body position. However, it can also be the result of injury or trauma to the brain. Pressure on blood vessels or nerves which can arise from tumors or stroke might also trigger the symptom. (21)
How are you diagnosed for vertigo? Diagnosis is usually achieved by a physical examination and description of symptoms. Further testing such as head scans or blood tests might be ordered to confirm the cause and assess the right treatment. (22)
What is the best treatment for vertigo? Treatment differs among individuals; some may need medicines such as antihistamines to suppress symptoms while for others different head and body movements may bring relief. Surgery might be required if other treatments fail. (23)
What are the long term complications of vertigo? Vertigo can reappear within years, but generally there are no long term complications other than the symptom itself. Those affected might suffer from prolonged impaired balance or hearing, but this can be corrected. (24)
Is vertigo considered a disability? No. However, those suffering from recurrent vertigo may perceive it as debilitating, and it might cause disruptions on a daily basis.
Is there any cure for vertigo? If the cause can be cured, vertigo may subside.
Is vertigo life threatening? Vertigo itself is not considered life threatening. But it can be a symptom of an illness which might be fatal if not treated. The affected may also acquire serious injuries during attacks, which could be harmful.
Vertigo is a form of severe dizziness, where the affected might perceive the world as spinning or moving. Objects may appear as though they’re jumping and it can bring an overwhelming feeling of sickness to the stomach.
It is generally caused by infections or other conditions which affect the part of the ear which controls balance. However, since it can have various causes it is critical for doctors to reach an appropriate diagnosis.
This symptom can be debilitating, but fortunately, most cases resolve over time.