Dizziness and vertigo are common complaints among patients. Most cases of disequilibrium are not serious in nature, but to be on the safe side you should consult a doctor to rule out a serious condition. Balance disorders can lead to falls, a leading cause of injury in elderly patients.
The Balance System
Dizziness and vertigo are classified as balance disorders because they originate in the balance system of the inner ear. There, signals from the eyes, bones and joints are shared with the brain and nervous system to coordinate movement and keep a person upright. Interruptions in these signals can lead to dizziness, vertigo, blurred vision, lightheadedness and disorientation. Other symptoms include faintness, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, confusion, fatigue, depression, loss of concentration, fullness in the ear, tinnitus and hearing loss.
Many people use the terms “dizziness” and “vertigo” interchangeably, but they actually refer to a different set of symptoms. Dizziness is more a general feeling of unsteadiness or disequilibrium, while vertigo refers to a spinning sensation similar to what you would feel after stepping off a carousel or merry-go-round.
Causes of Dizziness and Vertigo
Dizziness and vertigo are symptoms of a wide range of medical conditions and other factors. These include:
- Viral and bacterial infections
- Neurological disorders
- Head trauma
- Inner ear abnormalities
- Vascular disorders
- Low blood pressure
- Side effects of medications
There are a few common balance disorders that frequently cause dizziness or vertigo. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) occurs when calcium crystals break loose and shift into the semicircular canals of the inner ear. Ménière’s disease, is the result of excess fluid in the inner ear. Labyrinthitis refers to irritation and swelling of the inner ear. All three can lead to bouts of unsteadiness.
Treatment options for dizziness and vertigo vary depending on the underlying cause and may involve medications, surgery, physical therapy, vestibular rehabilitation and lifestyle changes.