Vertigo is the feeling that you or your environment is moving or spinning. It differs from dizziness in that vertigo describes an illusion of movement.
When you feel as if you yourself are moving, it’s called subjective vertigo, and the perception that your surroundings are moving is called objective vertigo.
Unlike nonspecific lightheadedness or dizziness, vertigo has relatively few causes.
Vertigo can be caused by problems in the brain or the inner ear.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is the most common form of vertigo and is characterised by the sensation of motion initiated by sudden head movements or moving the head in a certain direction. This type of vertigo is rarely serious and can be treated.
Vertigo may also be caused by inflammation within the inner ear (labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis), which is characterised by the sudden onset of vertigo and may be associated with hearing loss. The most common cause of labyrinthitis is a viral or bacterial inner ear infection.
Meniere’s disease is composed of a triad of symptoms including: episodes of vertigo, ringing in the ears (tinnitis), and hearing loss. People with this condition have the abrupt onset of severe vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss, as well as periods in which they are symptom-free.
Acoustic neuroma is a type of tumour of the nerve tissue that can cause vertigo. Symptoms include vertigo with one-sided ringing in the ear and hearing loss.
Vertigo can be caused by decreased blood flow to the base of the brain. Bleeding into the back of the brain (cerebellar hemorrhage) is characterised 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.
Vertigo is often the presenting symptom in multiple sclerosis. The onset is usually abrupt and examination of the eyes may reveal the inability of the eyes to move past the midline toward the nose.
Head trauma and neck injury may also result in vertigo, which usually goes away on its own.
Migraine, a severe form of headache, may also cause vertigo. The vertigo is usually followed by a headache. There is often a prior history of similar episodes, but no lasting problems.
Complications from diabetes can cause arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which can lead to lowered blood flow to the brain, causing vertigo symptoms.
What are the symptoms of vertigo?
Vertigo implies there is a sensation of motion either of the person or the environment, often perceived as if the room is spinning around. This should not be confused with symptoms of lightheadedness or fainting.
Vertigo differs from motion sickness in that motion sickness is a feeling of being off-balance and lacking equilibrium, caused by repeated motions such as riding in a car or boat.
If true vertigo exists, symptoms include a sensation of disorientation or motion. In addition, the individual may also have any or all of these symptoms:
Nausea or vomiting,
Abnormal eye movements.
The duration of symptoms can be from minutes to hours and symptoms can be constant or episodic. The onset may be due to a movement or change in position.