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Health and Fitness News

When the World Is Spinning

What is vertigo and how is it treated?

Ever feel dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up quickly? If so, you know it’s not a pleasant feeling. While it may be fine to feel off balance after a roller coaster ride, someone with vertigo experiences dizzy spells on and off all the time. They may feel like they are spinning or like everything around them is spinning.

Unfortunately, vertigo is a fairly common condition. In fact, 4 out of 10 people can expect to have vertigo at some point in their life. What causes vertigo and how is it treated? Read on to find out.

The Vestibular System

Not heard of the vestibular system? It is part of the body that includes the structures in the inner ear, the vestibular nerve, and two parts of the brain––the brainstem and cerebellum. The cerebellum is the area of the brain responsible for controlling coordination, motor control, and interpreting sensory information. In other words, the vestibular system maintains your sense of balance and posture. When something isn’t quite right in the vestibular system, you may experience vertigo.

What’s Responsible?

Quite a few conditions can cause feelings of vertigo and imbalance. As a result, vertigo can be tricky to diagnose. Many people who see their doctor for vertigo leave their appointment without a clear diagnosis of what’s making them dizzy.
The most common cause is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Moving your head or body when leaning over or lying down can trigger short spells of vertigo. BPPV occurs when tiny calcium deposits are caught in the inner ear canals.

BPPV is not, however, the only cause of vertigo. Meniere’s disease causes vertigo due to a buildup of fluid and pressure changes in the inner ear. Dizziness may last minutes or hours. Labyrinthitis is caused by inflammation in the inner ear from a viral or bacterial infection. Vertigo from this inflammation may last hours or days at a time.

Less commonly, vertigo may be attributed to a range of other issues. Head or neck injury, migraine, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and brain tumors can all cause vertigo. So can diabetes, panic attacks, anxiety, heart arrhythmias, a sudden drop in blood pressure, or the combination of certain medications.

Accompanying Symptoms

Vertigo is often described as feelings of spinning, swaying, being off balance, being pulled to one direction, or as if things are moving around you. Along with these feelings, you may feel nauseated, have a headache, or break out in a sweat. Some vertigo sufferers also experience strange eye movements, ringing in the ears, trouble walking, weakness, or hearing loss.

Vertigo and its symptoms may last a few seconds or a few days. The feelings may not be constant, but may come and go.

Restoring Balance

The way vertigo is treated depends on its cause. Sometimes it's best to wait it out for a few days to see if it goes away on its own. Your brain can do an amazing job of adapting to changes in the inner ear and restoring your sense of balance.

In other cases, treatment may be necessary. When the vestibular system is to blame, a special form of physical therapy can help. Vertigo caused by Meniere’s disease may be treated with diuretics that work to relieve fluid buildup and pressure. If calcium deposits are responsible for your vertigo, your doctor or physical therapist may recommend head and body movements that work to loosen the deposits from their trapped position.

Have vertigo that is accompanied by nausea or motion sickness? You may be prescribed medication for relief. And vertigo caused by inflammation or infection may require antibiotics or steroid medications.

In extreme, rare cases, surgery may be necessary to bring back balance.