People often use the term dizziness to refer to vertigo. However, these two conditions, while related, are not the same thing. Dizziness is often used to describe the following feelings:

  • The feeling you are about to pass out or faint
  • Lightheadedness
  • Disequilibrium or feeling off balance or unsteady
  • A vague spaced-out or swimmy-headed feeling
  • Vertigo — a false sense of movement

To clear up the confusion, let’s talk about the difference between these two conditions. Vertigo is a type of dizziness that is known for a false sense of movement. For example, you may be sitting or standing still but feel like you or your environment is spinning or rotating. It is similar to the way a child feels when he spins around and around, then suddenly stops and feels as if the world around him is still moving. Some people report feeling as if they’re being pulled to one side. Vertigo is not a condition; rather, it is a symptom of another illness.

The symptoms of vertigo include the following:

  • A spinning sensation
  • Trouble walking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Nystagmus — a jerking movement of the eyes

Vertigo can be disabling, especially when accompanied by nausea and vomiting. It is usually not a dangerous or life-threatening condition unless someone is performing a task that can put him or her at risk when it hits. For example, driving a car, operating heavy machinery, or being on a ladder during an episode of vertigo can put you in danger.

Vertigo and dizziness account for about 6% of doctor’s visits. This can happen to anyone at any age, but it often as seen in the elderly. As many as 40% of people are affected after age 40. These conditions can be chronic (meaning that they last more than a month) or temporary (meaning that they happen once and they never happen again or they come and go). An interesting fact is that dizziness and vertigo, even if they are incapacitating, do not generally come from a serious disorder. With older people, there is often not an obvious single cause of dizziness.

What Causes Vertigo

Vertigo is usually brought about by disorders of the inner ear and brain that are connected to maintaining your balance. The following body systems are often involved:

  • Inner ear
  • Brainstem and cerebellum
  • Nerves that connect the inner ear to the brainstem and the cerebellum

The inner ear is made up of semicircular canals, saccule, and utricle. These are the things that help the brain sense position and movement. Information from these is sent to the brain via the vestibulocochlear nerve (the eighth cranial nerve), which is involved in hearing. The brainstem then processes this information, adjusts your posture and sends this information to the cerebellum. If one of these structures is not in proper working order, vertigo can ensue. Disorders of the inner ear can also cause a problem with hearing or a ringing in the ears, in addition to vertigo.

Other things that may cause a feeling of dizziness can be anything that impacts the brain function in general. This could include low blood sugar, low blood pressure, severe anemia, or different medications.

Here are the most common conditions that have vertigo as their main symptom:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Vestibular neuritis
  • Labyrinthitis
  • A vestibular migraine

A vestibular migraine is becoming more and more recognized as a common cause of vertigo. This kind of a migraine happens with people who have a history of migraines or a family member with migraines. This includes head pain accompanied by vertigo or dizziness. Some people have migraine-like symptoms, such as blind spots, sensitivity to light and sound, or flashing lights.

Dizziness without vertigo often happens when the brain is not getting enough oxygen and glucose. This may be related to non-neurological disorders that include heart and lung disorders or severe anemia. Certain medications can also cause dizziness without vertigo.

Less common causes of dizziness can include a tumor of the vestibulocochlear nerve, a tumor, stroke, or TIA affecting the brain stem, injury to the eardrum or inner ear, multiple sclerosis, pregnancy, and low blood sugar.

How to Find Help for Vertigo and Dizziness

It has been seen that vertigo and dizziness can come about due to a misalignment in the bones of the upper cervical spine. If either, the C1 or C2 vertebra is misaligned, it can put stress or pressure on the brainstem. This can cause the brainstem to send improper signals to the brain about the body’s location. If the signals coming from the brainstem do not match the signals being sent by the ears and the eyes, vertigo and dizziness are soon to follow.

Here at Dr. Corrine Weaver’s office in Morgantown, West Virginia, we use a gentle method that helps the bones to realign without the need to pop or crack the spine or neck. This allows for a more natural realignment, leading to a longer-lasting adjustment. Once the bones are back in their original position, proper function of the brainstem can resume and dizziness and vertigo may become a thing of the past. Is there any proof this works?

A study was done that observed 60 vertigo patients who received this type of adjustment from an upper cervical chiropractor. All 60 were seen to have some type of misalignment in their neck due to previous trauma from such things as whiplash, sporting accidents, or trips and falls. The good news is that all 60 saw improvement in the intensity and frequency of their attacks. In fact, 48 of them saw their vertigo go away entirely.