ThedaCare Health Matters
Vertigo is a term used to label the symptom of the sensation of spinning or loss of balance. The perception may be that the surroundings are moving or that the actual person is moving. Vertigo is a distressing feeling often associated with nausea and vomiting. There are a number of conditions that can cause vertigo. Most of the time it is not serious, but there are some exceptions.
When someone tells me they are dizzy, the first thing I try to clarify is the type of dizziness they are experiencing. People often use the term “dizzy” to describe a feeling of light headedness. So, I first try to determine whether their dizziness is lightheadedness or a sensation of spinning or movement (Vertigo). The causes -- and therefore the evaluation and treatment -- are quite different.
We all have a balance mechanism in the inner ear that is known as the vestibular labyrinth. It contains the semicircular canals. These are like tiny hoops oriented in three planes that have fluid in them and are lined by nerve fibers that send signals to the brain. The labyrinth also contains tiny sensors with crystals in them that respond to movement. The fluid and crystals move when there is a change in position and this helps the brain control balance and sense position.
Most of us have probably experienced Vertigo at one time or another. The sensation we get when we spin ourselves in a circle, then stop and try to stand still is transient Vertigo. The movement of the inner ear fluid and crystals causes the symptom. Sudden changes in position that cause transient symptoms of spinning or unsteadiness that resolves by staying still is referred to as Benign Positional Vertigo.