Vertigo Causes and Symptoms

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Vertigo is a sensation of movement, usually spinning, while you're not at motion. Vertigo makes you feel dizzy but can also cause nausea, vomiting, and severe sweating. There are many causes of vertigo, which is actually a symptom not a condition. Based on the cause, vertigo can further be differentiated into two categories: central and peripheral vertigo. Central vertigo is vertigo that occurs as a result of a problem in the brain or spinal cord.

Peripheral vertigo occurs as the result of a problem in the inner ear. This article will cover many of the most common causes of vertigo but keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of conditions that may cause vertigo or dizziness.

Middle Ear Disorders

Any condition which affects the inner ear may cause vertigo. Common conditions such as middle ear infections, fluid in the ear, or rupturing an ear drum may cause mild vertigo. It would be unusual for vertigo caused by these conditions to be severe. Vertigo caused by these conditions is temporary.

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is a common cause of vertigo which usually occurs while riding in a car, boat, or on an airplane. Symptoms subside shortly after the motion stops. Motion sickness occurs when the vestibular and visual systems send your brain conflicting information. This can occur because you are reading a book in the car or staring at something inside of the vehicle.

Your vestibular system tells your brain you are moving but your visual system tells your brain you are in a fixed position. Bringing these two systems back into sync, by looking out the window, can sometimes relieve symptoms.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches are probably the most common cause of vertigo.

The vertigo is usually relieved when the headache goes away. This type of vertigo seems to respond better to migraine-specific treatments rather than medications and procedures typically used to treat other types of vertigo. Unlike other types of central vertigo, migraine headaches may also be accompanied by hearing loss.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is a the most common form of peripheral vertigo that occurs as the result of calcium deposits in the semicircular canals in the inner ear. The Epley Maneuver, a procedure which involves rotating the head in specific directions to move the calcium deposits out of the semicircular canals is effective in approximately 80% of individuals with BPPV.

Labrynthitis and Vestibular Neuritis

Labrynthitis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the inner ear. If it involves the vestibular nerve it may be called vestibular neuritis. In addition to vertigo, this may cause the following symptoms:

  • blurry vision
  • instability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • tinnitis
  • hearing loss (usually in only one ear)

Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease is a condition which causes specific symptoms including:

  • vertigo
  • tinnitis
  • fluctuating hearing loss
  • pain or pressure in the ears
  • headaches
  • abdominal pain or diarrhea

The causes of Meniere's disease are not well understood but endolymphatic pressure in the inner ear seems to play a role. Treatments aim to lower inner ear pressure and to relieve other symptoms. There is currently no cure for Meniere's disease.

Autoimmune Disease of the Inner Ear

This condition is characterized by rapid hearing loss which occurs when the immune system attacks the structures in the inner ear. Autoimmune disease of the inner ear is frequently misdiagnosed as Meniere's disease because the symptoms are so similar. Unlike Meniere's disease, however, hearing loss usually occurs bilaterally.

Central Vertigo

In addition to migraine headaches the following conditions can cause central vertigo:

  • stroke
  • tumors
  • acoustic neuroma
  • trauma
  • infections in the brain or spinal cord
  • multiple sclerosis

Central vertigo is usually accompanied by other neurological symptoms not seen in peripheral vertigo such as one-sided muscle weakness, slurred speech, or confusion.

Medications and Other Exposures

Environmental exposures can also cause vertigo through ototoxicity (toxic to the ears), including arsenic, lead, and mercury. Vertigo can be a side effect of certain substances, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbs, and recreational drugs. Medications that have been shown to cause vertigo include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihypertensive (blood pressure lowering)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antipsychotic
  • Cholesterol-lowering
  • Diuretics (water-pills)
  • Parkinson's disease medications

Whenever starting a new medication, you should always be careful when first standing in case you experience severe dizziness. Failure to take initial precautions may increase your risk for falling and causing additional harm.


Chimirri, S, Aiello, R, Mazitello, C, Mumoli, L, Palleria, C, Citraro, R, & De Sarro, G. (2013). Vertigo/dizziness as a Drugs’ adverse reaction. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 4(Suppl1): S104–S109. doi: 10.4103/0976-500X.120969

Medscape. Autoimmune Disease of the Inner Ear.

Medscape. Central Vertigo.

Medscape. Dizziness, Vertigo, and Imbalance.

Medscape. Meniere's Disease.

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