Vertigo is dizziness that creates the false sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving.

The condition can feel similar to motion sickness, but it’s not the same as lightheadedness.

There are two categories of vertigo: peripheral vertigo and central vertigo.

Peripheral vertigo

Peripheral vertigo is the most common type of vertigo. It occurs as a result of a problem in the inner ear, or the vestibular nerve, which controls balance.

Read more about peripheral vertigo here.

Central vertigo

Central vertigo occurs as a result of a problem in the brain. It can be caused by a variety of different conditions, including:

Common causes for vertigo include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This is the most common cause of vertigo and creates an intense, brief sense that you’re spinning or moving. These episodes are triggered by a rapid change in head movement, such as a blow to the head.
  • Infection. A viral infection of the vestibular nerve, called vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis, can cause intense, constant vertigo.
  • Meniere’s disease. When excessive fluid builds up in the inner ear, the result can be sudden episodes of vertigo that last for several hours.
  • Migraine. Migraine-induced vertigo can last minutes to hours.
  • Head or neck injury. Vertigo is a common symptom after a traumatic injury to the head or neck, especially if there is damage to the vestibular system.
  • Medications. Certain medications can cause vertigo, along with other symptoms like dizziness, hearing loss, and tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears.

Benign positional vertigo

Although benign paroxysmal positional vertigo can be bothersome, it’s rarely serious, except when it increases the chance of falling.

Symptoms may include:

  • dizziness
  • a sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving
  • a loss of balance or unsteadiness
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Read more about benign positional vertigo here.

Can stress cause vertigo?

Although stress doesn’t cause vertigo directly, it can worsen it. What’s more, 2016 research suggests that severe stress could increase your risk of stroke, which could potentially cause vertigo.

One of the most common symptoms of vertigo is dizziness, which usually worsens with head movement. It’s typically described by patients as a spinning sensation, with the room or objects around them seeming to move.

Other symptoms of vertigo include:

Treatment options for vertigo can depend on the underlying cause. To improve symptoms, vestibular rehabilitation therapy as well as medications, such as meclizine (Antivert), have been found to be effective.

Repositioning maneuvers

The canalith repositioning maneuver, also known as the Epley maneuver, is used to relieve symptoms of BPPV.

These specific head maneuvers can help displace canalith crystals (small particles that can cause vertigo) from the canals of the inner ear.

Each treatment session involves holding four positions for 30 to 60 seconds each and repeating each position several times, as needed.

A healthcare professional can guide you through each movement during the session. They may also provide additional guidance on how to perform this procedure at home.

Medication

Meclizine is an antihistamine, which is a class of medication often used to treat allergies.

Meclizine is effective in treating motion sickness or vertigo. However, it might lead to confusion or even amnesia in older adults.

Exercises

There are several exercises used to help alleviate symptoms of vertigo. They typically involve marching in place or holding specific positions to improve balance.

These exercises are similar to the ones used in vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT).

VRT involves exercises designed according to each person and their symptoms. After a thorough clinical examination, one of three main methods is applied:

  • habituation, which improves dizziness
  • gaze stabilization, which improves control of eye movements so vision can be clear during head movement
  • balance training, which improves steadiness

However, if you have severe vertigo, it’s best to reach out to an experienced physical therapist for additional guidance, instead of performing these exercises on your own.

Read more about exercises for vertigo here.

Surgery

Surgery may be necessary for the treatment of certain underlying conditions that can cause vertigo, such as a brain tumor or head injury.

There are several ways to naturally relieve discomfort caused by vertigo.

For example, certain supplements can help improve sleep while dealing with vertigo, including ginkgo biloba and melatonin.

There are also many exercises for vertigo that you can perform at home, such as Brandt-Daroff exercises, the Semont maneuver, and the Foster maneuver.

Read more about home remedies for vertigo here.

Essential oils for vertigo

Essential oils such as lavender may help stop dizziness and nausea.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is currently no research available to support the use of essential oils for vertigo.

A healthcare professional can diagnose vertigo by performing a clinical exam and collecting information about your symptoms and medical history.

Certain clinical tests and observations can be helpful when assessing for vertigo. These include head impulse testing or the Dix-Hallpike maneuver (patients are quickly lowered from a seated position to lying down).

In some cases, additional testing may be needed to diagnose vertigo, including imaging, hearing exams, and balance tests.

The signs and symptoms of BPPV can come and go, with symptoms commonly lasting less than a minute.

In cases of Meniere’s disease, an episode of vertigo can last for longer than 20 minutes.

Migraine-induced vertigo can last minutes to hours.

Learn more about the duration of vertigo here.

Although vertigo and dizziness are often confused, vertigo is typically described as feeling like the world is spinning, even when there is no movement.

While dizziness is a more ambiguous term, patients will often interpret it as a sense of imbalance within their own space.

According to a 2020 study, vertigo is the most commonly reported vestibular symptom during the first trimester of pregnancy.

BPPV is particularly common during pregnancy. According to 2017 research, which categorized participants as women and men, BPPV affects women more frequently than men with a ratio of 2-to-1.

Factors that can cause vertigo during pregnancy include:

  • fluctuations in hormone levels
  • prolonged bed rest
  • changes in the metabolism of certain nutrients, including vitamin D and calcium

Many people also experience dizziness during pregnancy. This could be caused by several factors, including unstable blood sugar levels.

During the third trimester, the baby can put pressure on some of the major abdominal veins when the parent lies on their back, which can also cause dizziness.

In some cases, vertigo can be hereditary. Also known as familial benign recurrent vertigo, hereditary vertigo is a form of migrainous vertigo because it’s strongly associated with migraine attacks.

Vertigo can be caused by many factors, including infections, migraines, injuries, and several other health conditions.

Treating the underlying cause of your vertigo is the most effective way to decrease discomfort and provide long-term relief. There are also many home remedies, exercises, and medications that may be beneficial.

If you experience vertigo, it’s best to talk with a doctor to determine the cause and find a treatment plan that works for you.