How Do I Know If I Have Vertigo or Dizziness?

John Miller Physiotherapist

Article by John Miller

Vertigo and Dizziness: A Physiotherapist’s Guide

How Do You Know If You Have Vertigo or Dizziness?

Experiencing dizziness can be both unsettling and confusing. This feeling often raises the question: Is it vertigo or just dizziness? Dizziness encompasses a range of sensations, including feeling faint, woozy, weak, or unsteady. Vertigo, however, is a specific type of dizziness that gives you the sensation that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving.

To determine the specific cause of dizziness, a healthcare professional must conduct a proper evaluation and diagnosis.

What are the Top 3 Causes of Dizziness?

  1. Inner Ear Disorders: The most common culprits include Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Meniere’s disease, and vestibular neuritis, which directly impact your balance.
  2. Neurological Issues: Conditions such as migraines and strokes affect the brain’s processing of balance and spatial orientation, leading to dizziness.
  3. Blood Pressure Changes: Both high and low blood pressure can disrupt your equilibrium, causing a dizzy sensation.

What are the Red Flags for Dizziness?

It’s crucial to recognise when dizziness might signify a more serious issue. Pay attention to these warning signs:

  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Vision changes, including double vision
  • Weakness or numbness, especially on one side of the body
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting

How to Stop Feeling Dizzy

Here are some immediate actions you can take:

  • Sit or lie down to prevent falls and rest until the dizziness passes.
  • Hydrate, as dehydration can exacerbate dizziness.
  • Avoid sudden movements, especially rapid changes in position.
  • Focus on a fixed point to help stabilise your surroundings.

When Dizziness is Serious!

Dizziness warrants professional attention when it’s:

  • Accompanied by any of the red flags mentioned above.
  • Persistent, recurring, or progressively worsening.
  • Impacting your ability to perform daily activities.

What is Vertigo?

Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness characterised by the sensation that you, or the environment around you, is spinning or moving. Unlike general dizziness, which can include feeling faint, lightheaded, or unsteady, vertigo gives a false sense of rotational movement. This condition can be quite disorienting and is often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, balance problems, and sometimes hearing loss.

Vertigo is usually a symptom of an underlying condition, often related to problems in the inner ear or vestibular system, which is responsible for helping the brain process information about motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation. Disorders in this system can lead to vertigo, giving the affected individual the disturbing sense of spinning or moving, even when they are perfectly still.

Why Do People Get Vertigo?

Vertigo can stem from various causes, including:

  • Inner Ear Disorders: The most common cause is BPPV, where tiny calcium particles clump up in canals of the inner ear. Other causes include Meniere’s disease (inner ear fluid build-up) and vestibular neuritis (inner ear nerve inflammation).
  • Neurological Issues: Such as a stroke or multiple sclerosis affecting the parts of the brain that interpret balance and spatial information.
  • Head or Neck Injuries: Trauma to the head or neck can damage the inner ear or brain, leading to vertigo.
  • Medications: Some drugs can cause vertigo as a side effect.

How Long Does Vertigo Usually Last?

The duration of vertigo depends on its cause:

  • BPPV: Episodes are brief, typically lasting less than one minute. However, the condition might recur sporadically.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Attacks can last from 20 minutes to 24 hours.
  • Vestibular Neuritis: Symptoms may be more persistent, gradually improving over several days to weeks.

What Is the Best Therapy for Vertigo?

The best therapy depends on the underlying cause but generally includes:

  • Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT): This is considered one of the most effective treatments for many types of vertigo. It involves exercises designed to retrain the brain to recognise and process signals from the vestibular system and coordinate with visual and proprioceptive cues.
  • Canalith Repositioning Maneuvers (like the Epley Manoeuver): Specifically effective for BPPV, these manoeuvers help to move the dislodged calcium crystals that cause vertigo.
  • Dietary Changes and Lifestyle Adjustments: For conditions like Meniere’s disease, reducing salt intake and managing stress can be beneficial.
  • Medication: In some cases, medications are used to reduce symptoms like nausea or to address underlying conditions.

How Do You Get Vertigo to Go Away?

To alleviate vertigo, treatments focus on the underlying cause. Here are some common approaches:

  • Epley Manoeuver: The Epley manoeuvre is one of several BPPV treatment options. It involves a series of head and body movements performed by a healthcare professional to reposition crystals in the inner ear that cause BPPV. However there are three vestibular canals in each ear. While the Epley manoeuvre is highly successful for resolving the otolith crystals for the posterior canal, it may not assist crystal within the horizontal or anterior canals. For the best and quickest solution, please seek the advice of a vestibular physiotherapist.
  • Medication: Drugs to relieve symptoms like nausea or to treat underlying conditions causing vertigo.
  • Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT): A specialised form of physiotherapy designed to strengthen the vestibular system and improve balance.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments: Reducing intake of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco; staying hydrated; and managing stress.
Finding Balance After Vertigo Treatment

Related Articles

  1. Cervicogenic Dizziness & Cervical Vertigo – Tips & Treatment: Offers insights into how neck disorders can cause dizziness and vertigo​​.
  2. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT): Explains how vestibular physiotherapy can assist in managing balance issues and dizziness​​.
  3. What Are The Symptoms Of BPPV?: Details the symptoms of Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo and its treatment​​.
  4. Vestibular Migraine: Discusses the challenges in diagnosing and treating vestibular migraines, which affect balance and spatial orientation​​.
  5. Vertigo Causes & Dizziness Causes – Advice & Managing Tips: Provides information on various causes of vertigo and dizziness, along with management tips​​.
  6. Vestibular FAQs: Offers answers to frequently asked questions about vertigo and dizziness, enhancing understanding of these conditions​​.
  7. How to Improve Balance: A guide on improving balance through exercises, highlighting the significance of balance assessments and fall prevention​​.
  8. What Are The Four Types Of Dizziness?: Explains the four distinct types of dizziness, their causes, and symptoms​​.