Vertigo is a symptom described as the illusion of motion or a spinning sensation or saying. Dizziness and vertigo are among the most common symptoms causing patients to visit a physician. A critical distinction is differentiating vertigo, a spinning/movement sensation, from other types of dizziness. This dichotomy is helpful because true vertigo is often due to inner-ear disease. Other symptoms of dizziness may be due to CNS, cardiovascular, or systemic diseases.
The sensation of vertigo is caused by a disruption of the signals between your brain and your body’s position or balance sensing systems. These systems include the following:
- 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 (proprioception).
- Skin pressure sensation gives you information about your body's position and motion in relationship to gravity.
- Inner ear 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 are inner ear disorders, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, Meniere’s disease, vestibular neuritis, or labyrinthitis. Other triggers for vertigo can be migraine headaches, which are painful, debilitating headaches that often occur with vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, noise, and smell. As well as decreased blood flow through the arteries that supply blood to the base of the brain, creating vertebrobasilar insufficiency.
If you experience vertigo it is important to see a physician because while some causes of vertigo are benign and dissipate on its own, there are some more serious but rare causes. Some serious causes can be brain tumors or brain metastasis. These tumors that have travelled to the brain can disrupt the signals need for balance resulting in vertigo.