Vertigo is an Illusion of Motion- Know What Causes It

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Nov 18, 2013
Quick Bites

  • Vertigo is a sense that you, or your environment is spinning.
  • The disturbed balance organs of the inner ear can cause vertigo.
  • Another cause is disturbance in brain parts or sensory nerve pathways.
  • Migraine headache is the most common cause of central vertigo.

Feeling the world spinning around you? Think this is love? Well, it could be vertigo. Vertigo is a type of dizziness and can be accompanied with nausea and vomiting. It may last for minutes or for hours and even days.

what is vertigoSome people mistaken the giddy feeling at great heights to be vertigo but it is not the case. Vertigo is a specific kind of dizziness characterized by a sense that you or your environment is moving or spinning, even though there is no movement.

This peculiar characteristic differentiates it from presyncope also, which is a sense of almost fainting (typically a result of temporarily lowered blood pressure). Light-headedness, often associated with anxiety, is different too, sometimes called psychogenic vertigo.

Vertigo in itself is a symptom and not a condition. Mostly, vertigo is caused by a medical condition however, sometimes the cause may not be known. Problem with the inner ear- like an infection or inflammation is the most common cause associated with vertigo.

The rotational dizziness that defines vertigo is brought on by one of two causes - disturbance in either the balance organs of the inner ear, or parts of the brain or sensory nerve pathways.

Disturbance in Inner Ear

It is our inner ear that sends signals to the brain when we move our head and helps us know our head’s position and to keep our balance. When there is a problem in the inner part of our ear, we feel sick and dizzy.

One collective term for inner ear causes is known as peripheral vertigo. The inner ear has a part called labyrinth which has tiny organs. These organs enable messages to be sent to the brain in response to gravity. Our brain is told when there is movement from the vertical position. Our brain then enables us to keep our balance and maintain equilibrium.

Any disturbances like inflammation in this system cause vertigo.  Viral infection is behind the inflammation seen in the following two conditions:

  • Labyrinthitis - this is inflammation of the inner ear labyrinth and vestibular nerve (the nerve responsible for encoding the body's motion and position7)
  • Vestibular neuronitis - this is thought to be due to inflammation of the vestibular nerve.


Ménière's disease

The disease is caused by bacterial as well as viral infections. When there is a high pressure of a fluid in any compartment of the inner ear, Ménière's disease vertigo is caused. Not just these infections but some metabolic and immune disorders can also result in Ménière's disease.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

Disturbance in otolith particles cause BPPV. Calcium carbonate crystals within ear fluid are called otolith particles. Their function is to pull on sensory hair cells during movement and to stimulate teh vestibular nerve to send positional information to the brain.
When BPPV id disturbed, normal movement of the endolymph fluid continues even after the head movement has stopped. BPPV is twice as common in women as it is in men. It usually affects older people and most often comes without a cause.

Disturbance in Brain or Sensory Nerve Disturbance

The central nervous system causes are collectively called central vertigo. It involves disruption to one of the following-

  • The parts of the brain (brainstem and cerebellum) that deal with interaction between the senses of vision and balance
  • Sensory messages to and from the thalamus part of the brain.

Central vertigo is most commonly caused by migraine headaches. Stroke stroke and transient ischemic attack, cerebellar brain tumor, acoustic neuroma (a non-cancerous growth on the acoustic nerve in the brain) and multiple sclerosis are some of its unknown causes.

You should see you GP if you have recurrent or persistent signs of vertigo. He will ask about your symptoms and can carry out a simple examination to help determine if you have been experiencing vertigo. They may also refer you for further tests.


Read more articles on Vertigo.

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