Dizziness: Lightheadedness and Vertigo - Topic Overview
Vertigo occurs when there is conflict between
the signals sent to the brain by various balance- and position-sensing systems
of the body. Your brain uses input from four sensory systems to maintain your
sense of balance and orientation to your surroundings.
- Vision gives you
information about your position and motion in relationship to the rest of the
world. This is an important part of the balance mechanism and often overrides
information from the other balance-sensing systems.
- Sensory nerves in your joints allow your brain to keep track
of the position of your legs, arms, and torso. Your body is then automatically
able to make tiny changes in posture that help you maintain your balance
- Skin pressure sensation
gives you information about your body's position and motion in relationship to
- A portion of the
inner ear , called the labyrinth, which includes the semicircular canals,
contains specialized cells that detect motion and changes in position. Injury
to or diseases of the inner ear can send false signals to the brain indicating
that the balance mechanism of the inner ear (labyrinth) detects motion. If
these false signals conflict with signals from the other balance and
positioning centers of the body, vertigo may occur.
Common causes of vertigo include:
- Inner ear disorders, such as
benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV),
vestibular neuritis, or
- Injury to the ear or
- Migraine headaches, which are painful,
debilitating headaches that often occur with vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and
sensitivity to light, noise, and smell.
- Decreased blood flow
through the arteries that supply blood to the base of the brain
Less common causes of vertigo include:
- A noncancerous growth in the space behind the
- Brain tumors and cancer that has traveled
from another part of the body (metastatic).
Immediate medical attention is needed if vertigo occurs
a change in speech or vision or other loss of function. Vertigo that occurs with loss of
function in one area of the body can mean a problem in the brain, such as a
transient ischemic attack (TIA).
Alcohol and many prescription and nonprescription
medicines can cause lightheadedness or vertigo. These problems may develop
- Taking too much of a medicine (overmedicating).
- Alcohol and medicine interactions. This is a problem, especially
for older adults, who may take many medicines at the same
- Misusing or abusing a medicine or alcohol.
intoxication or the effects of withdrawal.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you
should see a doctor.