What is Dizziness and Vertigo?

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It is difficult to discuss dizziness because it means different things to different people.  There are three main terms in use by physicians which describe what we all refer to as “dizziness”

  1. Disequilibrium

    Disequilibrium is the sensation of being off balance, much like when getting off a boat, and is sometimes characterized by falls in a specific direction. This condition is not often associated with nausea or vomiting or vertigo.

  2. Presyncope

    Pre-syncope (literally near fainting) or lightheadedness, like when standing up too quickly. Pre-syncope is often related to low blood pressure.  If loss of consciousness occurs in this situation, it is termed syncope (fainting).

  3. Vertigo

    Vertigo is a specific medical term used to describe the sensation of spinning or having the room spin about you. Many people find vertigo very disturbing and often report associated nausea and vomiting.

    If the vertigo arises from the inner ear, it is severe and has associated nausea and vomiting. One common cause of otologic vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Alternate causes of vertigo originating from the inner ear include Ménière’s disease, superior canal dehiscence syndrome, and labyrinthitis.

If vertigo arises from the balance centers of the brain, it is milder, and has accompanying neurologic deficits, such as slurred speech, double vision or nystagmus. Alternately, brain pathology can cause a sensation of disequilibrium which is an off-balance sensation. Being able to identify and discuss these different symptoms will help you and your physician narrow down your problem and possibly come up with a treatment for you vertigo.