Dizziness or Vertigo?

Have you ever had the feeling that the world was spinning around you, yet you weren’t moving? It’s the feeling you get when you get off an amusement park ride… without the ride and without the relief. That’s vertigo. It can be debilitating and be a sign of other diseases. But what is the difference between being dizzy and experiencing vertigo?

Some people describe vertigo as dizziness, but typically dizziness refers to a sense of lightheadedness or the feeling that you are going to “pass out” from standing too long in the heat or standing up too quickly after lying down for a long time. Although you may feel dizzy, you will not feel like your surroundings are whirling around you. The feeling of dizziness often improves when you lie down or put your head between your legs. This change in position allows oxygen rich blood and nutrients to redistribute and allows the body to restore balance.

It is important from a diagnostic standpoint to understand the difference between lightheadedness (dizziness) and vertigo. Vertigo itself is not a disease. It is a symptom. Nearly 40% of US adults will experience vertigo at least once in their lifetime, and women are more susceptible to it then men. Most of the time, vertigo is caused by disturbances or disorders associated with the inner ear. People who experience vertigo say that sudden movement of their head or dehydration can trigger episodes of vertigo. Infections of the inner ear, fluid or pressure build up and sometimes even small calcium deposits can interfere with the nerves that effect equilibrium and balance causing the spinning sensation and sometimes ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss. Vertigo can come and go spontaneously, or last a few days and be episodic in nature. Diseases associated with these inner ear disturbances include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which is commonly referred to as motion sickness, Ménièrs Disease, vestibular neuritis and labrinthitis (both from infection of the inner ear) and migraines. Less common causes of vertigo include low blood pressure, brain injury, bleeding into the brain, brain tumors, stroke, and multiple sclerosis.

Vertigo itself is not an emergency, however it is a sign from your body that something is not right. The feeling of vertigo can lead to panic attacks, falls or accidents if it catches you off guard. Make an appointment with your doctor if you have unexplained dizziness vertigo that reoccurs for more than one week. Diagnosis of the underlying condition that is causing the vertigo will determine the treatment plan that is right for you.

If you are experiencing dizziness or vertigo with any of the following symptoms, call 911 or go to the ER immediately:

If your vertigo is not an emergency but is still affecting your every day life, you can seek guidance from your primary care doctor who may refer you to a vestibular rehab specialist. These specially trained physical therapists will evaluate the type of vertigo (peripheral or central), what is causing it, and when appropriate, provide exercises and repositioning maneuvers to assist with balance. Rush Copley and Athletico have vestibular rehab specialists on staff for your convenience.

If you or a family member have any questions regarding dizziness or vertigo, or would like to make an appointment to discuss your current health, please contact our office today to schedule an appointment.