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Vertigo (or Spinning Sensation): What it is, Disorders it May Indicate, and What to do About It

If you've ever felt like the room was spinning or like you needed to reach out to steady yourself when you stood up, you've experienced dizziness. Vertigo, or dizziness that makes it feel like your surroundings are spinning, is a symptom, not a disease itself.


More than 40 percent of Americans have experienced dizziness that's so severe they saw a doctor for help.

Feeling dizzy is not unusual, and over 40 percent of Americans have visited a doctor because they experienced vertigo, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

What Causes Dizziness?

Numerous conditions can result in dizziness. Among them:

  • Impaired circulation caused by blood loss, dehydration or heart problems

  • Low blood sugar

  • Low blood oxygen levels

  • Acute infections

  • Drug reactions

  • Anxiety

The most common form of vertigo, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), however, is usually caused by a problem with the balance mechanism in your inner ear that senses movement and changes in the position of your head. BPPV is much more common as you age, though may also be caused by a head injury.

Is Vertigo Serious, and How is it Treated?

It's uncommon for dizziness to signal a serious illness, according to the Mayo Clinic, however dizziness along with a severe headache, double vision, speech or hearing difficulties, trouble walking, chest pain or numbness can indicate a serious problem including:

  • Stroke

  • Brain tumor

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Heart disease

Most often, though, vertigo is more of a nuisance than a serious threat. The exception here is if the sensation is so severe that it causes you to lose your balance and fall, or stops you from participating in your normal daily routine. Dizziness can also be dangerous while you're driving.

Though dizziness often goes away on its own, a series of movements known as the canalith repositioning procedure is often used to treat people with BPPV. A doctor can do the procedure, which consists of maneuvering your head into several simple positions to move particles from your inner ear into a bag-like structure called a utricle, where they won't cause you to feel dizzy.


If you feel dizzy, sit or lie down immediately, and when you get up, do so slowly.

The canalith repositioning procedure is said to have a 90 percent to 95 percent success rate among BPPV patients.

Meanwhile, dizziness that results from inner ear conditions can often be remedied by similar balance retraining exercises for your head and body, which you can learn from a physical or occupational therapist and do in your own home.

If You Get Dizzy Often ...

There are steps you can take to lessen your symptoms and protect yourself during dizziness episodes.

  • If you feel dizzy, sit or lie down right away.

  • Don't drive a car or use dangerous machinery while you're dizzy.

  • Since you may lose your balance when you're dizzy, consider using protective gates near stairways like the portable Gateway to Go.

  • Turn on lights if you get up during the night.

  • If necessary, use a cane to help keep your balance.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, which may worsen your symptoms.

Recommended Reading

Falling Down: Secrets to Prevent a Top Cause of Death in the Home

The 6 Common Mistakes Doctors Make When Treating Older Patients -- and How to Prevent Them


National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Medline Plus: Dizziness and Vertigo

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