Medical Encyclopedia


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Vertigo-associated disorders

Contents of this page:


Tympanic membrane
Tympanic membrane

Definition    Return to top

Vertigo is a sensation of motion or spinning that is often described as dizziness.

Vertigo is not the same as light-headedness. People with vertigo feel as though they are actually spinning or moving, or that the world is spinning around them.

Causes    Return to top

There are two types of vertigo:

Vertigo related to the inner ear may be caused by:

Vertigo related to the vestibular nerve may be caused by:

Vertigo related to the brainstem may be caused by:

Symptoms    Return to top

The primary symptom is a sensation that you or the room is moving or spinning. With central vertigo, there are usually other symptoms from the condition causing the vertigo. Symptoms can include:

The spinning sensation may cause nausea and vomiting in some people.

Exams and Tests    Return to top

A physical exam may reveal:

Tests to determine the cause of vertigo may include:

Treatment    Return to top

Medications to treat peripheral vertigo may include:

Benign positional vertigo is most often treated with physical maneuvers that help reposition small structures in the semicircular canals of the inner ear. This reduces or stops the vertigo.

The cause of central vertigo should be identified and treated as appropriate.

Try to avoid head positions that cause vertigo. Use caution in situations such as driving, walking, or operating heavy equipment. Even short episodes of vertigo may be dangerous.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

The outcome depends on the cause.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Persistent, unrelieved vertigo can interfere with driving, work, and lifestyle. It can also cause falls, which can lead to many injuries, including hip fractures.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if vertigo is persistent or troublesome.

References    Return to top

Baloh RW. Hearing and equilibrium. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 454.

Bauer CA, Jenkins HA. Otologic symptoms and syndromes. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al., eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2005; chap 126.

Update Date: 10/30/2008

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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