13 Head-Spinning Causes of Vertigo (Dizziness)

Vertigo is a sensation that millions of people will experience at some point in their lives. From spinning rooms to unsteady gaits and lightheadedness, the symptoms of this condition are beyond unpleasant.

What causes vertigo?

Vertigo or the feeling of dizziness can be a commonplace symptom that sometimes results from a situational event (such as riding on a carnival ride). However, it can also be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition.

So, what causes the unpleasant sensation of vertigo, anyway? Lets explore the common reasons your head starts spinning…

Acoustic Neuroma

What is acoustic neuroma?

An acoustic neuroma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor that sits on your auditory nerves (vestibular or cochlear).

How does this condition cause vertigo?

When this tumor increases pressure to certain parts of the ear, it may cause vertigo.

What are the complications of this condition?

While the tumor itself is benign, it causes life-threatening complications by sitting on these nerves and leading to a build-up of fluid in your brain.

How is acoustic neuroma diagnosed?

Only by going to a doctor and speaking with them about your vertigo will you be able to see if this is the cause of the acoustic neuroma. This is usually a very rare cause of vertigo, so your doctor will want to rule out other more-common causes.

Inner Ear Inflammation

Why can inflammation cause vertigo?

The inner ear is responsible for much of our sense of balance, so it makes sense that when this area is inflamed, a person experiences the sensation of vertigo.

What causes this inflammation?

The usual cause of this condition is a bacterial ear infection. Fortunately, many bacterial infections are easily cleared with antibiotics.

The next cause of vertigo? It’s related to something as simple as standing up too fast…

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

This type of vertigo is caused by a sudden shift in the position of your head. For example, you might turn over in bed and experience vertigo or go on a fun carnival ride and get off feeling dizzy and off-kilter.

Is the condition serious?

The cause of this type of vertigo is, as the name implies, usually benign (not harmful) and harmless except for feeling very uncomfortable for those brief few minutes after you have that sudden shift in the posture of your head.

The ear once again plays a mighty role in this type of vertigo, but the mechanisms are poorly understood. If you’re experiencing this type of vertigo frequently, it’s important to see a doctor so that they can confirm there’s not a more serious underlying condition to blame.

While this condition can be annoying, it’s relatively harmless, unlike the following…

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that ruthlessly attacks the immune system, causing all manner of symptoms that distress sufferers. About 20% of people who develop multiple sclerosis will experience vertigo as a symptom.

What does it feel like?

The usual cause of vertigo in multiple sclerosis is the growth of a lesion on the cerebellum or brain stem, causing you to experience the well-known symptoms of vertigo:

  • dizziness
  • loss of balance
  • hearing issues
  • nausea

Seek treatment right away if you suspect you have MS.

While vertigo will not be present just by itself, it may be one of the most severe symptoms of early MS. If multiple sclerosis is the reason for your vertigo, it’s vital to seek treatment immediately. After all, MS is a chronic condition, meaning it can be treated but not cured. And, since it’s progressive, it can get steadily worse over time. The best way to prevent or even slow down this progression is receiving proper medical care as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, MS is common, unlike this next condition…

Meniere’s Disease

Here is yet another inner ear disease that disrupts your sense of balance, resulting in vertigo.

What causes this condition?

While the cause of Meniere’s disease is not yet known, scientists believe it is the result of abnormal fluid levels in the inner ear. Importantly, this condition affects only one ear at a time.

What are the complications of Meiere’s disease?

Meniere’s disease can, unfortunately, lead to hearing loss. When this complication occurs, your doctor can often prescribe hearing aids and other medical interventions to increase your ability to hear or slow down the loss of your hearing.

Meniere’s is a very rare disease. So, while it’s definitely behind some cases of vertigo, it’s very unlikely that it is to blame for the majority of cases.

While the cause of MD isn’t known, it’s easy enough to track the following…

Head or Neck Trauma

While the exact mechanisms of vertigo aren’t well-known in instances of injury and trauma, we do know that any kind of trauma to the head or neck can cause this dizzying condition. In fact, scientists now know that between 30% and 65% of people who experience a traumatic head injury will further experience one or more episodes of vertigo, dizziness, nausea, and feeling off-balance in a way that’s alarming.

What types of trauma typically cause vertigo?

Head and neck injuries are extremely serious, and so it’s important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing vertigo from this type of injury. Sports injuries, car accidents, and even assaults are frequent causes of head trauma or neck injury.

Symptoms can persist months after the initial injury occurred.

Trauma to any area of the body can cause internal injuries that aren’t immediately evident. For example, even if your car accident or injury was a few months ago, it’s still possible to have symptoms. If these symptoms persist, it’s time to seek medical treatment.

What are ways to manage vertigo resulting from injury or trauma?

Pain and vertigo management will obviously vary based on what caused your injury as well as the extent of your trauma. Some general techniques that have helped others, though, include:

  • Pain from head or neck trauma require medications such as OTC pain relievers or prescription pain relievers.
  • Be sure to take it easy on bad days.
  • If vertigo is particularly bad on some days, use a cane, walker, or even wheelchair.
  • Your doctor may want to prescribe physical therapy.

Trauma is a common cause of vertigo. However, sometimes something as simple as fluctuating hormones can affect balance and posture…

Pregnancy

Hormone levels fluctuate wildly during pregnancy, which can cause all forms of uncomfortable symptoms for expectant mothers, including vertigo.

How do fluctuating hormones from pregnancy cause vertigo?

Elevated hormone levels set off a chain reaction that relaxes blood vessels. This relaxation is great for increasing blood flow to the fetus. Unfortunately for pregnant individuals, blood flow back to their own bodies is sometimes slowed so much that it lowers blood pressure.

One side effect of low blood pressure? Vertigo, which is often accompanied by nausea and sometimes even headaches.

How can someone manage vertigo caused by pregnancy?

This is one bout of vertigo you can manage.

  • Avoiding standing on the feet for long periods of time.
  • Do not sleep on your back after the second trimester.
  • Always drink plenty of fluids to help reduce lightheadedness
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Avoid strenuous activity, especially once you’ve had a bout of vertigo.
  • Stand up and sit down very slowly.

However, if the problem becomes persistent and more troubling, seeing a doctor is recommended.

Problems like vertigo can last the full 9 months someone is pregnant. The next cause of vertigo, however, is sudden and intense…

Panic Attacks

How do panic attacks cause vertigo?

Panic attacks can be debilitating. You become short of breath, have a sense of impending doom, and may even begin to breathe irregularly (hyperventilate), something that can cause you to become lightheaded and dizzy (both symptoms of vertigo).

It’s natural, then, that panic attacks are a frequent cause of vertigo for people suffering from chronic anxiety.

How can you manage panic attack-induced vertigo?

  • Speak with a counselor about what causes your panic attacks.
  • Learn soothing breathing techniques to regulate the amount of air you take in during these attacks.
  • Learn meditation techniques for when these attacks occur.
  • Some people find gentle music therapy to be helpful.
  • Many medications can also help treat panic attacks and eliminate them altogether, so that vertigo will also go away.

Now, the next cause of vertigo is closely related to panic attacks…

General Anxiety

While related, panic attacks and generalized anxiety are not the same thing. A panic attack is acute and intense. By contrast, general anxiety can continue indefinitely if left untreated.

How can anxiety cause vertigo?

While anxiety by itself won’t cause vertigo, your reactions to it can. For example, people who are experiencing anxiety often make movements with their head or body (such as pacing or standing too quickly). These swift movements might cause dizziness.

How can one manage vertigo from general anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorder are real, and a doctor can validate them for you. The best way to treat vertigo caused by anxiety is to tackle the anxiety condition itself.

  • Sometimes simply talking to someone about your anxiety helps, such as a trained mental health professional.
  • Learn about and practice mindfulness techniques.
  • Exercise more (if you’re healthy enough to do so).
  • See if eating healthier foods makes a difference in your level of well-being.

Generalized anxiety is very real. This next condition, however, only causes phantom sensations, including vertigo…

Mal de Debarquement (MDD)

What is mal de debarquement (MDD)?

This particular disorder has been studied for years with few answers. What is known, though, is that it affects the vestibular system. Importantly, this sensory system feeds the brain information regarding motion, spatial orientation, and head position. It is therefore key for motor functions, helping us stay balanced and stabilized.

Now, MDD causes a phantom feeling of movement. In other words, someone can feel like they’re moving even when they are standing perfectly still.

What does MDD feel like?

People describe this sensation as “swaying” or “bobbing.” The sensations can be mild or severe and cause severe dizziness and disorientation.

What causes this condition?

It’s frequently triggered by boating, airplane travel, and even sleeping on water beds. While MDD can be a long-lasting disorder, symptoms typically dissipate once triggers are removed. For example, you might have this disorder every time you go on a cruise. Once the cruise is over and you’ve readjusted, though, you feel perfectly fine.

Keep your doctor in the loop.

Many people experience MDD each year, especially people who frequently go on boats or travel in airplanes. If you know that you experience this condition when you boat or fly, it’s vital to make sure your doctors know when your trips are occurring. This way, they can give you enough medication to treat your symptoms for the duration of your trip.

How else is mal de debarquement-induced vertigo managed?

  • Vestibular rehabilitation is often recommended by doctors.
  • Stress management techniques have been shown to help some.
  • Eating better and exercising more may improve symptoms.
  • If the symptoms are troubling enough, low doses of clonazepam before, during, and after a common triggering event may help.

MDD can be easy enough to manage and even prevent. This next potential cause, though, can be much harder to prevent and spot…

Stroke

Vertigo can be a symptom of a stroke. So, if you are experiencing troubling vertigo and have other symptoms of a stroke, it’s vital to get to an emergency room or doctor right away—strokes can be life-threatening.

How common is vertigo seen with stroke?

3-5% of all vertigo cases seen in emergency rooms annually are discovered to be caused by a stroke. Older patients or patients with existing blood pressure problems are much more likely to find that their vertigo is the cause of a stroke.

How do strokes cause vertigo?

A stroke happens when a blockage occurs in the brain, meaning blood flow is disrupted. In severe cases, blood vessels rupture in the brain, leading to internal bleeding.

It’s the lack of blood supply to the brain that causes dizziness in a stroke. Of course, vertigo might not be all you notice. Stroke sufferers frequently report symptoms that include:

  • Changes in vision or hearing
  • Imbalance
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Drooping or numbness on one side of the face
  • Weakness or partial paralysis in one side of the body

What should you do if you think you’re experiencing a stroke?

Call 911 right away. Detail your symptoms and when they started. The sooner you get medical help for a stroke, the higher your odds of survival are.

How are strokes managed?

  • A stroke is a serious medical emergency, so in this case, don’t manage; get to a doctor or hospital right away!

Of course, strokes aren’t the only attack on the brain that may cause dizziness…

Migraine

There are various kinds of migraines. One type, a vestibular migraine, has vertigo as its primary symptom. Why? Because this type of migraine primarily affects the vestibular system.

What do vestibular migraines feel like?

Strangely enough, you may not even have what would be described as a headache with this type of migraine. Instead, you may become:

  • lightheaded
  • nauseated
  • confused
  • disoriented
  • anxious
  • dizzy

If you’ve had migraines in the past and now find that you’re having these symptoms, minus the headache component, you very well may be having a vestibular migraine.

Managing vertigo symptoms in cases of migraine

  • As hard as it is, it’s vital to live a healthy lifestyle.
  • When you’re experiencing symptoms, try to rest.
  • Avoid known migraine triggers.
  • Have a strong support group of people you can talk to.

The most serious cause of vertigo?

No one enjoys migraines. However, even migraines cannot compare to the next potential cause of vertigo…

Brain Tumor

While something as simple as standing up can cause vertigo, sometimes the underlying cause of this dizzying sensation is much more serious, such as a brain tumor.

How can a brain tumor cause vertigo?

Even a benign tumor can press on the inner structures of the brain, causing pain, vertigo, and a host of other terrible symptoms.

How is a brain tumor managed?

  • There is no such thing as self-managing a brain tumor. If you suspect you have a brain tumor, see a doctor immediately.
  • If you’ve already been diagnosed and are living with this condition, try to maintain as good an attitude as possible for your own well-being, however hard it is.
  • Follow all doctor’s orders and attend all appointments.

What’s next?

So, what’s most important to remember when dealing with vertigo?…

Seek Treatment for Vertigo

Vertigo is a symptom that may be situational, resulting from something as simple as riding a roller coaster. Other times, it may be the symptom of a serious medical problem, such as stroke or brain tumors. Since vertigo can have many causes, it’s important to see a doctor to get a professional diagnosis. After all, the cause of your vertigo will affect your treatment plan.

Discover the underlying cause of your dizziness.

While almost all of us will get dizzy at some point in life, there are others who deal with this unpleasant symptom on a daily basis. Knowing the causes behind vertigo can help you better understand what is going on with your body. If you notice that vertigo is accompanied by symptoms of other conditions, you should bring this up with your doctor to help them make a proper diagnosis.

What’s most important to remember?

What’s most important to remember is to always seek professional medical advice when you’re experiencing symptoms that interfere with your life. In other words, if you notice alarming symptoms, be on the safe side and seek help.

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