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Information from Your Family Doctor

Vertigo: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Jan 15;73(2):254.

  See related article on vertigo.

What is vertigo?

Vertigo is the feeling that you’re moving when you are staying still. You might feel like you are spinning around, or that everything else is spinning around you.

Who gets vertigo and why?

Anyone can get vertigo. The most common kind of vertigo is called benign paroxysmal (say: be-NINE pair-ek-SIZ-mal) positional vertigo, or BPPV.

Another kind of vertigo is acute vestibular neuronitis (say: veh-STI-bu-lar NOOR-o-ny-tus), or AVN. AVN is caused by the swelling of a nerve in your ear.

A third kind of vertigo is Ménière’s (say: men-YARE’s) disease. This is a disease of the organs that give you a sense of balance and direction. Symptoms include vertigo, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, and a feeling of fullness in the ears. If your doctor thinks you have Méniè’s disease, he or she may give you a hearing test or send you to a specialist.

Vertigo also can be a side effect of some medicines. Panic disorder and stress may cause vertigo in some people.

Some kinds of vertigo are more serious, like cerebrovascular (say: ser-ee-bro-VAS-cue-lar) disease. People with this have blocked arteries to the brain that can cause strokes or mini-strokes.

How do I know if I have vertigo?

Your doctor will ask you questions about when and why you feel dizzy, and how bad it is. Your doctor also will need to know about any other medical problems you have and what medicines you take.

Your doctor might check your head, neck, heart, and reflexes. Your doctor also might ask you to do some exercises that could cause you to get dizzy.

How is vertigo treated?

The treatment depends on the cause. Some medicines can help relieve vertigo. Patients with BPPV can do exercises to reduce or get rid of their symptoms. Some vertigo goes away on its own. Your doctor will tell you which treatments are best for you.

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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