The signs of vertigo can make you feel dizzy, and this can be a sign of a stroke. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a possible stroke is important, as is getting treatment when necessary.

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It can be disorienting when the feeling of vertigo hits you. Your head feels like it’s spinning, and the world feels like it’s tipping over. Many wonder how quickly it will pass or if the sensation means something more serious is going on, such as indicating you’ve had or may soon be having a stroke.

The answer may not always be apparent at first.

This article will look at vertigo and the connection to stroke possibility and what you should discuss with a doctor and healthcare team.

Vertigo is a feeling that the world around you is spinning or has tipped on its axis. It’s dizzying and can make it seem like you’ve lost your balance.

It can be fleeting, most often lasting no more than a few minutes.

But vertigo has also been known to last hours, days, weeks, or even months.

While there are different types of vertigo, some clinical research shows that 15% to over 20% of people can experience dizziness related to vertigo. Older research that divides people into groups labeled as either men or women notes that women may be two or three times as likely to experience vertigo compared with men.

Types of vertigo

There are two categories of vertigo:

  • Peripheral vertigo: Peripheral vertigo is the most common type of vertigo. It occurs as a result of a problem in your inner ear, or your vestibular nerve, which controls your sense of balance.
  • Central vertigo: Central vertigo occurs as a result of a problem in your brain. It can be caused by a variety of different conditions, including a stroke.
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The short answer: Yes, it’s possible that a stroke can lead to vertigo.

Vertigo is associated with brain stem strokes. These are strokes caused by an interruption in the blood flow to your brain stem, that’s the base of your brain where it connects with your spinal column.

This interruption in blood flow to your brain stem can be caused by blood vessels being blocked. This is called an ischemic stroke. It can also be caused by bleeding in or around your brain, which is a hemorrhagic stroke.

Your brain stem controls your body’s central nervous system and can affect both mental and physical activities and sensations. Both motor function and consciousness can be affected, creating the sensation of vertigo.

A brain stem stroke is life-threatening and should be treated as a serious health emergency.

Although vertigo is a common symptom for people in primary care health settings and emergency departments, it’s not necessarily a symptom of something more serious such as a stroke.

But recurring episodes of vertigo should receive medical attention because they may indicate a serious medical condition. Recurring episodes of vertigo may be a predictor of a stroke.

The most commonly recognized symptoms of a stroke that might arise suddenly are:

  • numbness or a feeling of weakness in your face, leg, or arm, especially if this happens on only one side of your body
  • mental confusion, including finding it difficult to speak or understand language
  • disruption of your sight in one or both eyes
  • severe headache without an apparent cause

Additionally, less commonly recognized symptoms of a stroke include:

  • sudden loss of one or more senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching), either in total or partially
  • nausea or vomiting
  • stiff neck
  • emotional instability or drastic change in personality
  • seizure
  • fainting
  • coma

FAST test for stroke symptoms

If only some of the above-mentioned symptoms appear and you’re not sure if the person is experiencing a stroke, the FAST test is a quick way to check further:

  • F is for face: Ask the person to smile and look to see if one side of their face droops.
  • A is for arms: Ask the person to raise both arms and watch for an arm drifting downward.
  • S is for speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase and listen for slurring or any other unusual sound in their words.
  • T is for time: If you see any of these indications, call 911 or local emergency services immediately.

You can learn more about this FAST test from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including a helpful CDC-created YouTube video describing what to look for.

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There are times when stroke symptoms appear to clear up on their own.

A temporary blood flow blockage can happen. This is a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and it requires medical follow-up. Sometimes called a ministroke, a TIA may be an early warning of a more serious stroke to come.

Act quickly if you suspect someone is experiencing a stroke. Call 911 or local emergency services to get them medical attention as soon as possible. A stroke disrupts the blood flow to their brain. While this is happening, parts of their brain aren’t getting the oxygen they need, and brain cells are dying. The quicker the person receives treatment, the better their outlook for recovery.

The type of treatment will depend on the cause (blockage or bleeding) and location of the stroke.

For strokes caused by blockages, the priority is to restore blood circulation. This is achieved with thrombolytic medications that dissolve clots, catheterization procedures that remove clotting, or both. Both of these treatments are time sensitive.

For strokes caused by bleeding, bringing blood pressure down is often the priority. This will reduce the amount of bleeding and encourage clotting to seal any damaged blood vessels. Medications can also be given. And surgery to relieve pressure on the brain may be needed.

Over the longer term, it’s likely that stroke treatment will include rehabilitation.

The person may need to relearn or strengthen their physical and communication abilities. Rehabilitation focuses on reestablishing the person’s ability to take care of themselves, do the activities of daily life, communicate, and function psychologically.

The CDC points out that stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States, and the likelihood of experiencing a stroke can be lowered through actively managing your overall health. This is especially true if you have any of the following conditions:

Because of the treatments and rehabilitation available today, the chances of recovering from a stroke are better than ever. But recovery can remain a long road. It can take months and months to return to functioning fully and independently.

Even though a stroke can be quite serious, there’s hope for a complete recovery when it happens. The key is to pay attention to your symptoms, including vertigo, and get medical attention at the first suspicion of a stroke.