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Vertigo is the sensation that an individual or the world around him is spinning. Doctors divide vertigo into two categories. Peripheral vertigo relates to the balance inside the inner ear and could be triggered by infection, injury, or medication. Central vertigo is rarer and is usually caused by damage to the central nervous system. Vertigo can last for minutes, hours, or continue for days.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) occurs when tiny crystals break off from the inner ear canal and overstimulate hair cells that are sensitive to movement. This "tricks" the brain into thinking that motion is occurring when it isn't. It is the most common cause of vertigo. Certain head movements, such as bending down or turning to the side while lying in bed, can trigger dizziness. BPPV episodes generally last only a few minutes. The condition usually poses no dangers other than the risk of falling and does not require treatment. People over 50 are more likely to experience BPPV.

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The labyrinthitis infection

The name of this infection refers to the network of tubes in the inner ear where it develops -- the bony labyrinth, a portion of the inner ear that controls hearing and balance. Inflammation of these tubes can cause vertigo. Usually, a viral infection causes labyrinthitis, but bacteria can also lead to the illness. In addition to vertigo, an infected individual might experience ear pain, hearing loss, nausea, and fever.

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Vestibular neuritis

Vestibular neuritis refers to a nerve deep within the ear that connects the labyrinth tubes to the brain. If a virus infects this area, the bony labyrinth can become inflamed. The symptoms of vestibular neuritis often come on after a cold or upper respiratory infection, due to a virus. Vestibular neuritis has much in common with labyrinthitis, including many of the symptoms. Like labyrinthitis, it can cause hearing loss that is sometimes permanent. The symptoms could pass in just a few hours or persist for weeks.

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Vertigo caused by an illness

Certain pre-existing conditions can trigger vertigo. For example, it is quite common for people with multiple sclerosis to experience episodes of dizziness. Migraines and diabetes can also cause vertigo. The latter is subject to dizziness when the condition causes the arteries to harden or narrow, reducing the flow of blood to the brain. Panic attacks can lead to vertigo episodes, as well.

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Side effect of pregnancy

During the initial stages of pregnancy, bouts of vertigo may occur because hormonal changes affect the mother's blood sugar levels; low blood sugar can also lead to dizziness. In later stages, vertigo may occur when a woman lies down on her back, a shift that can make the baby press against a vein that brings blood back to the heart. Pregnancy-related vertigo should cease following childbirth.

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Traveling

Many people are familiar with seasickness or car sickness, which occur when a vessel is in motion. Vertigo can also develop as an individual disembarks from their mode of transportation. The transition from a state of movement to standing or walking on static ground can temporarily upset balance and cause dizziness. This type of vertigo should cease quickly, as the body re-establishes its relationship to its surroundings. Rarely, this sensation can persist for days or weeks. Persistent symptoms are more common in people who suffer from migraine headaches.

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Too much time lying down

Some people experience vertigo after spending an extended time lying down, such as after being bedridden due to illness. Much like stepping off a ship, the body must reacclimate to its position and orientation. Again, this type of vertigo should pass quickly.

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Ear surgery

Although it is unlikely that ear surgery causes vertigo, some patients do experience it as a side effect. The problem often corrects itself without further treatment, though in some cases an additional procedure may be necessary. It is important to inform a doctor about any side effects following surgery. The physician will determine whether the severity of the issue and monitor the patient's improvement.

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Head or neck injuries

It is not uncommon for someone recovering from a head injury to get vertigo. How long vertigo lasts depends upon the extent and severity of the injury. Sometimes, neck injuries can cause cervical vertigo if the injury damaged nerves or blood vessels. In most cases, this damage should heal on its own in a few days or weeks. 

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Genetic factors

Some hereditary conditions can cause vertigo. Meniere's disease, a disorder in the inner ear that can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus, can also cause sudden and severe bouts of vertigo. Meniere's tends to run in families, although it can also afflict people without a family history of the condition. A disease of the ear bone, called otosclerosis, is an even rarer cause of vertigo that can be linked to a genetic issue. About half of all people with otosclerosis have a gene that places them at higher risk of this symptom.

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Central vertigo: beyond the inner ear

Central vertigo is a condition that stems from issues within the brain, such as the brainstem or cerebellum, rather than the inner ear. Unlike peripheral vertigo, which is more common and often less serious, central vertigo can indicate underlying brain disorders, including stroke or multiple sclerosis. Symptoms might be similar to those of peripheral vertigo but are often accompanied by more severe neurological deficits, such as difficulty walking or slurred speech. Treatment focuses on the underlying condition and may involve medication, physical therapy, or surgery.

Cartoon sick human brain fainted dizzy. Central nervous system mascot with glasses dizziness. Human mind organ character feeling unwell and headache. Vector eps illustration

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Medication-induced vertigo: the pharmaceutical culprit

Certain medications can have the unintended side effect of causing vertigo. These include some antibiotics, diuretics, and medications that affect the central nervous system as well as anti-depressants, contraceptives, antihypertensives, and anti-inflammatories. Individuals experiencing vertigo after starting a new medication should consult their doctor, as an adjustment to the prescription might be necessary. In many cases, the vertigo dissipates once the body adjusts to the medication or when the treatment is concluded.

Prescription pills and medication may cause dizziness and cause digestive irritation

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Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS): when the ground keeps moving

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS) is characterized by a persistent sensation of rocking or swaying, typically after a cruise or flight. This condition typically resolves within 24 hours, but it can last for months or even years and is more common in women. The exact cause of MdDS is unknown, and there is no cure, but treatments such as vestibular rehabilitation exercises and medications can help manage symptoms. Understanding and recognizing MdDS is crucial for those who experience unexplained, persistent dizziness after travel.

Blured photo of a woman suffering from vertigo or dizziness or other health problem of brain or inner ear.

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Vertebrobasilar insufficiency: a circulatory system concern

Vertebrobasilar insufficiency occurs when blood flow through the vertebral or basilar arteries to the back of the brain is reduced. This condition can lead to vertigo, as well as other symptoms like vision problems, slurred speech, and weakness. Risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Treatment focuses on improving blood flow and may include lifestyle changes, medication, and in some cases, surgery to reduce the risk of stroke.

Human Circulatory System Anatomy. 3D

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Autoimmune inner ear disease: when the body attacks itself

Autoimmune inner ear disease is a rare condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks the inner ear, leading to hearing loss and vertigo. Diagnosis can be challenging, requiring a combination of hearing tests, blood tests, and sometimes imaging studies. There is no cure for this condition; treatment typically involves steroids to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune response. Early intervention is key to preventing permanent damage to hearing and balance.

Man holding the model of the human inner ear in hands. Ear model. A model of the ear for elementary science classes.

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.