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Headaches and Migraines: Vision, Vertigo, and Dizziness

Migraines, Vertigo, and Dizziness

Migraines are one of the leading causes of dizziness. More than 25% of the 20 million people in the U.S. who suffer from migraines experience this uncomfortable symptom. The dizziness caused by migraines may include feelings of lightheadedness or unsteadiness as well as true vertigo. Vertigo makes you feel as if the room is spinning.

Even though spinning sensations may appear to be vision problems, they're actually related to your inner ear. In fact, some people who experience migrainous vertigo also experience other ear and hearing problems. That includes sound sensitivity and ringing in the ears.

Dizziness and vertigo are more common in people who have migraines with aura, including vision problems, than in those who have headaches without aura. One particular type of migraine -- basilar-type migraine -- is the most likely to cause vertigo. It's also likely to cause ringing in the ears, hearing loss, and coordination difficulties.

Some people who experience migraine-related vertigo don't develop this symptom until several years after their migraine episodes begin. The headache-induced dizziness may precede or occur at the same time as the headache. In some instances, the symptoms of dizziness and vertigo develop in the absence of headache. The dizziness symptoms may last anywhere from a few seconds to days.

It can be difficult for a doctor to make a diagnosis of vertigo caused by migraine. That's because people who have these headaches often have other conditions that may cause dizziness. This can include anxiety, depression, and positional low blood pressure.

Treatment for a Migraine's Vision, Vertigo, and Dizziness Symptoms

The vision symptoms and dizziness caused by migraines are scary and troubling. But they usually improve significantly or even disappear with medical treatment.

There are a variety of options for addressing migraines and their related symptoms. They include lifestyle changes, medications, physical therapy, and complementary therapies.

  • Lifestyle changes. Many people can reduce or eliminate their headache-induced vision problems and vertigo by making changes in their lifestyle. One step that may help is to avoid trigger foods. Foods known to cause migraines in some people include chocolate, peanuts, and red wine. Stopping smoking, reducing stress levels, and getting regular exercise may also help reduce the occurrence of migraines and related vision problems.
  • Medications. There are no surefire migraine medications that will work for everyone who gets migraines. There are, though, a variety of options that may be used alone or in combination to relieve headaches and the associated vision problems, dizziness, and vertigo they can cause. Therapies may include:
    • Preventive drugs. These medications, including the antihypertensive verapamil, antiseizure medication topiramate and the antidepressant amitriptyline, can help block migraines before they start.
    • Abortive medications. First choice agents would be simply ibuprofen, naproxen or Tylenol. Prescriptive drugs, referred to as triptans, such as sumatriptan and rizatriptan, are used to stop migraines quickly before they become full-blown.
    • Symptom relievers. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs -- both prescribed and over-the-counter -- may alleviate headache and lessen related symptoms.
  • Complementary therapies. Biofeedback and acupuncture may reduce migraine-causing stress levels and help eliminate headache symptoms, including pain, vision problems, dizziness, and vertigo.
  • Magnetic stimulation. The Cerena Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator (TMS) is a prescription device placed on the back of the head at the onset of a migraine with aura. It then releases a pulse of magnetic energy and stimulates part of the brain, which may stop or lessen pain.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on January 22, 2015
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