What is vertigo?


The word vertigo derives from the Latin word verto, which means "to revolve". Vertigo is a false sense of motion, spinning or feeling of imbalance. Sufferers often call it dizziness, imbalance, light-headedness or "chakkar".

Often the imbalance is associated with nausea, vomiting, sweating, or unsteadiness on walking. It may worsen when you move your head. Vertigo should not be mixed up with acrophobia, which is an extreme fear of heights.

Vertigo and dizziness are common complaints presented to doctors of all specialities and they affect all age groups. It is a fact that 20-40% people are affected by dizziness at some point of time in their life; 15% people have dizziness; 5% have vertigo in any given year; 2.5% of all primary care visitors report dizziness; and 2-3% of emergency visits in the developed world are for vertigo.

But it must be noted that vertigo is not a disease. It is only a symptom of a disorder. Therefore, suppressing the symptom is not the solution. Proper diagnosis of what is causing vertigo / dizziness is possible only if the medical practitioner makes a systematic evaluation. And only a neuro-otological workup will help to find out if a vertigo patient is suffering from disorders like BPPV, Meniere's Disease, Vestibular Neuritis, Labyrinthitis, Acoustic Neuroma, Otolith Dysfunction, Vestibular Migraine, Central Vestibulopathy or psychogenic disorders.

Each aetiology (or set of causes) has a different appearance and a different treatment. Correct diagnosis, followed by rational treatment, therefore, is the only way to give the patient lasting benefit.

Symptoms of vertigo

Sufferers describe typical symptoms as though they are:

  • Getting chakkar or spinning
  • Swaying
  • Tilting
  • Feeling unsteady or imbalanced
  • Falling or being pulled one way

Vertigo patients also sometimes complain of nausea, difficulty in focusing on moving objects, headaches, change in hearing or ringing in the ears, and inability to focus their thoughts. Their symptoms can come and go, and can range from a few seconds to minutes, hours, even days.


Causes, diagnosis & treatment