If you have recently experienced a dizzy spell, or a feeling like the world is spinning, you might be suffering from vertigo. Millions of Americans are affected by this common balance disorder, including about 30 percent of adults older than 65, according to the National Dizzy and Balance Center. Vertigo can be caused by an underlying inner ear problem or a problem in the brain.
People experiencing vertigo will feel as though they are spinning, tilting or swaying. They might feel unbalanced or pulled in one direction. Associated symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, abnormal or jerking eye movements, headache, sweating, ringing in the ears or hearing loss. Symptoms of vertigo may be ongoing, or may come and go.
Vertigo is classified as either central or peripheral. Central vertigo occurs when there is a problem in the brain, specifically in the cerebellum, which controls the coordination of movements and balance. Causes of central vertigo include stroke, a brain tumor, migraine or multiple sclerosis.
Peripheral vertigo occurs as a result of a problem in the inner ear or the vestibular nerve.
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The vestibular nerve connects the inner ear with the brain, sending signals to the brain about movements and balance. When there is a problem in this area, vertigo is likely to occur.
The most common cause of peripheral vertigo is the movement of calcium particles, called canaliths, in the inner ear canals. Inflammation of the inner ear, usually from a virus, is also a common cause, which causes a sudden onset of vertigo for 24 to 48 hours.
Doctors can diagnose and classify vertigo by analyzing its symptoms. To diagnose vertigo, physicians often ask if a patient feels as though the world is spinning. If the answer is “yes,” the physician will then conduct a set of balance tests and, if needed, a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
To treat vertigo, you must treat the root cause. For those with a calcium particle movement, treatment includes a series of head movements that help to shift the calcium deposits into the correct location. Vestibular rehabilitation may be recommended if a patient has recurring vertigo. This type of physical therapy helps train other senses to compensate for vertigo. Medication may be prescribed to relieve nausea or motion sickness. In severe cases, surgery might be required to correct the underlying problem. In some cases, vertigo will go away without treatment.
Vertigo can negatively impact your quality of life, and can make everyday activities like walking or driving dangerous. Contact your physician if you are experiencing symptoms.
Dr. Jessica Lange is with Otolaryngology, Saint Joseph ENT Center, KentuckyOne Health.