What is vertigo?

Vertigo is a symptom where a person feels as if they or the objects around them are moving when they are not. It may be associated with nausea and vomiting and with difficulties walking.

When one complains to a neurologist that he or she is experiencing vertigo, the neurologist will ask a few additional questions to determine if it is vertigo as described above or another type of dizziness. The term dizziness is medically imprecise because it can refer to vertigo, presyncope, or a non-specific feeling such as giddiness.

What causes vertigo?

Vertigo can be caused by a disorder of the vestibular system situated in the ear, or disorder in some parts of the brain.

The vestibular system is located in the deep parts of the ear called the inner ear. If the cause of vertigo is a disorder in the inner ear, it is referred to as peripheral vertigo. While if the cause is disorder in the parts of the brain that regulate body balance, it is called central vertigo.

What is the most common type of vertigo?

The most common disorder that results in vertigo is the Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). It is caused by a problem in the inner ear. There are a number of triggers for BPPV attack: getting in and out of bed, rolling over in bed, quick head movement, etc. Each episode of vertigo usually lasts less than a minute and it is commonly associated with nausea. This disorder is very unpleasant, but it is not an expression of a life-threatening illness. The diagnosis is based on a medical history and clinical tests that are usually performed by an otolaryngologist or a neurologist in their office. The treatment is simple and usually successful. The therapeutic procedure consists of several simple and slow head manoeuvres, which should eliminate the causative disorder in the vestibular system.

Is vertigo dangerous?

Relatively rarely, vertigo can be a symptom of a disease that seriously threatens the patient’s life. This can be a case with central vertigo, which is caused by brain damage. For example, this may occur in some patients who suffered a stroke that affected certain parts of their brain.

In such cases, in addition to vertigo, there are usually other symptoms indicating brain damage, e.g. disorder of consciousness, impaired speech, tingling or some kind of muscle weakness.  If such symptoms occur, a neurologist should be consulted urgently an urgent neurological examination is necessary.

What is functional vertigo?

Functional dizziness is a condition in which symptoms are similar to the peripheral or central type of vertigo, but tests and examinations show no abnormalities that could explain the symptoms. In many cases, there is a more or less clear association with the psychological mechanisms that might be associated with the onset of symptoms. It is important that a neurologist or laryngologist make an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible, thus avoiding the accumulation of unnecessary examinations and start a targeted treatment.