Almost everyone can say that they’ve experienced a feeling of unsteadiness or a spinning/whirling sensation in their heads at one point in their lifetimes. Usually it’s narrowed down to dizziness, however, dizziness is a broad term that can mean different things to different individuals. It is a prevalent complaint which can also be serious. Dizziness has no specific medical definition, but there are four common conditions which can be considered types of dizziness:
- Vertigo. The feeling of motion where there is no movement, as if you were spinning or your environment is whirling. Spinning/whirling yourself around and around, then abruptly stopping, can produce temporary vertigo. However, when it occurs throughout an individual’s regular course of living, it could mean that there’s an underlying health issue in the vestibular system of the inner ear, the body’s equilibrium system which tells you which way is up or down and senses the position of your head. About half of all dizziness complaints are diagnosed as vertigo.
- Lightheadedness. Also referred to as near syncope or pre-syncope, lightheadedness is the feeling that you’re about to faint. It is commonly believed to occur from standing up too fast or by breathing deeply enough times to generate the sensation.
- Disequilibrium. A problem with walking. People with disequilibrium feel unsteady on their feet or feel as if they will fall.
- Anxiety. Individuals who are scared, worried, depressed, or fearful of open spaces can use the term “dizzy” to imply feeling frightened, depressed, or anxious.
Individuals who frequently suffer from dizziness may also ultimately complain of more than one type of dizziness. For instance, people with vertigo may also feel anxious. Dizziness may be a one-time event, or it can be a chronic, long-lasting issue. Nearly everyone who experiences some form of dizziness will recover over time. This is because an individual’s sense of balance is an intricate interaction between the brain, each ear’s different vestibular system, sensors in the muscles, and sense of vision. When one component experiences dysfunction, others can generally learn how to compensate. Below, we will be narrowing down the four common types of dizziness.
Vertigo, the sensation of spinning or whirling, can be divided into two different categories: peripheral vertigo and central vertigo. Peripheral vertigo is more common than central vertigo and it typically develops due to damage to the inner ear or CN VIII. This type of vertigo produces abnormal eye movements, referred to as nystagmus, which may be horizontal or rotary.
Nystagmus is usually jerky in nature with a fast and slow phase, however it is often named for the direction of the fast phase. Peripheral vertigo may worsen when the patient looks to the side of the fast phase of nystagmus. Furthermore, the severity of nystagmus can correlate with the severity of the patient’s vertigo. Peripheral vertigo is also characterized as having no other signs and/or symptoms of CNS dysfunction. Patient may describe having symptoms of nausea or may present difficulty when walking, but only due to vestibular dysfunction. The patient may also have hearing loss or tinnitus if the CN VIII or auditory mechanism function is damaged.
The causes of peripheral vertigo are typically benign, including: benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, cervicogenic vertigo, acute labyrinthitis/vestibular neuronitis, Meniere’s disease, perilymph fistula, and acoustic neuroma. Identifying a patient’s cause of vertigo can be determined by narrowing down the symptoms through proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional. If movements, especially of the neck and head, aggravate vertigo, it may be attributed to BPPV, vertebrobasilar artery insufficiency or cervicogenic vertigo. If noise manifests episodes of vertigo, it may be attributed to Meniere’s disease or perilymph fistula.
Common Causes of Dizziness
Vertigo can be Brought on by many things:
- Infections, such as the ones which cause the frequent cold or diarrhea, can lead to temporary vertigo through an ear infection. This inner ear disease is generally viral, benign, and usually goes away in one to six weeks, however, drugs and/or medications are readily available if these become too severe.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, is caused by the motion of a misplaced otolith, a tiny calcium particle the size of a grain of sand, from the component of the inner ear which senses gravity into the part that senses head position. The individual feels as if their head is turning when it isn’t. After diagnosis of BPPV using a special methods known as the Dix-Hallpike test, treatment done right in the doctor’s office can help move the otolith back where it belongs and fix the health issue. This therapy, known as the Epley maneuver, has been accounted to cure vertigo 80 percent of the time.
- Meniere’s disease is a disorder characterized by long-lasting episodes of severe vertigo. Other symptoms of Meniere’s disease are tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, hearing loss, and fullness or pressure in the ear.
- Dandy’s syndrome is a feeling of everything bouncing up and down. It may occur to individuals who take an antibiotic that is toxic to the ear. However, it usually improves over time.
- Less frequent, deadly diseases may also result in vertigo, like tumors or stroke.
Below, we will be narrowing down some of the common causes of vertigo, described above, in further detail.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, may develop spontaneously, particularly in the elderly. It may also commonly develop as a result of head trauma or head injury, such as that resulting from an automobile accident. Vertiginous episodes associated with BPPV may manifest through specific movements, including, looking at a high shelf, referred to as top-shelf vertigo, bending over, and rolling over in bed at night. The onset of vertigo with BPPV can begin a few seconds after movement and often resolves within a minute. As mentioned above, the diagnostic test commonly utilized to diagnose BPPV is the Dix-Hallpike maneuver. Treatment procedures to treat BPPV include the Epley maneuver and Brandt-Daroff Exercises. Furthermore, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo may also resolve on its own as the loose crystals in the inner ear dissolve, however, it may take months and new otoliths can also become displaced.
Cervicogenic vertigo occurs after a neck or head injury, however, it is not very common. It’s generally accompanied by pain and/or joint restriction where vertigo and nystagmus are less severe than that in BPPV. Cervicogenic vertigo manifests with changes in head position but does not subside as quickly as it does with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.
Vertebrobasilar Artery Insufficiency
Vertebrobasilar artery insufficiency occurs if the vertebral artery is compressed during head rotation or extension. In this instance, the onset of vertigo is delayed more than in BPPV or cervicogenic vertigo due to the fact that ischemia often takes up to 15 seconds to occur. Orthopedic tests for vertebrobasilar artery insufficiency may help in its diagnosis. Diagnostic tests include the Barré-Liéou sign, DeKlyn Test or Dix-Hallpike Maneuver, Hautant test, Underberg test and the vertebrobasilar after functional maneuver.
Acute Labyrinthitis and Vestibular Neuronitis
Acute labyrinthitis and vestibular neuronitis are not well understood, however, they’re believed to develop as a result of inflammation. These conditions generally follow after a viral infection or may occur seemingly without a cause. Acute labyrinthitis and vestibular neuronitis are characterized by a single, monophasic attack of vertigo which typically resolves in days to a few weeks and generally does not reoccur.
Meniere’s disease is characterized by increased pressure in the endolymph which causes membrane ruptures and a sudden mixture of endolymph and perilymph. With Meniere’s disease, episodes of vertigo can last from 30 minutes to several hours, or until equilibrium between the fluids in the inner ears to be reached. Over time, these episodes can damage vestibular and cochlear hair cells, resulting in low-pitch buzzing tinnitus and the loss of hearing of low tones. In comparison to Meniere’s disease, Meniere’s syndrome is when the symptoms of Meniere’s disease are found to be secondary to another condition, such as: hypothyroidism, acoustic neuroma, superior semicircular canal dehiscence or SCDS, or perilymph fistula. True Meniere’s disease is idiopathic.
Perilymph fistula is an abnormal connection, or tear, which causes a small leak within the inner ear due to trauma or injury, especially barotrauma. Perilymph fistula can look very similar symptomatically to Meniere’s disease/syndrome and it’s often aggravated by changes in pressure causes by airplane rides or driving uphill. Another symptom of perilymph fistula includes Hennebert’s sign, where a vertigo or nystagmus episode is brought on by sealing pressure of the ear, such as by inserting an otoscope.
Central vertigo, another category of vertigo, is less common than peripheral vertigo, as described above. It is caused by damage to the processing center of vestibular information in the brain stem and the cerebral cortex. However, episodes of dizziness are considered to be less severe than with peripheral vertigo while episodes of nystagmus are more severe than the patient’s complaint or description. This specific nystagmus associated with central vertigo may go in multiple directions, including vertical. Central vertigo may or may not have other CNS findings upon diagnosis or examination and no changes in hearing can be expected with this form of vertigo. The most common causes of central vertigo include: cerebrovascular disease, such as transient ischemic attacks, multiple sclerosis, Arnold-Chiari malformation, damage to caudal brainstem or vestibulocerebellum and/or migraine condition.
Lightheadedness, or pre-syncope dizziness, is generally caused by some surrounding circumstance impairing blood flow into the brain when an individual is standing up. Blame this problem on our ancestors who learned to walk upright, placing our brain above our heart. It is a challenge for your heart to keep the brain supplied with blood and it is easy for this system to break down. When blood vessels in the brain become dilated, or enlarged, as a result of elevated fever, excitement or hyperventilation, alcohol ingestion, or prescription drugs and/or medications, such as antidepressants, it’s no wonder someone may commonly get lightheaded. There can also be serious causes, however, such as a stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Pre-syncope dizziness is specifically from cardiac origin, such as output disorders, arrhythmias, Holter monitor testing. It may also be caused by postural/orthostatic hypotension, which may be secondary to other health issues like diabetic neuropathy, adrenal hypofunction, Parkinsons, certain drugs and/or medications, etc. Light-headedness can involve vasovagal episodes accompanied by slow heart rate with low blood pressure often caused by stress, anxiety or hyperventilation. Finally, pre-syncope dizziness can be caused by migraine headaches due to cerebrovascular instability and blood sugar dysregulation.
Disequlibrium, can be caused by:
- A type of arthritis in the neck called cervical spondylosis, which puts stress on the spinal cord.
- Parkinson’s disease or related disorders that cause an individual to stoop forward.
- Disorders involving part of the brain known as the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for coordination and balance.
- Diseases like diabetes that can lead to lack of sensation in the legs.
Disequilibrium is most common in the elderly and it generally occurs due to sensory deficits. In addition, disequilibrium has a gradual onset which worsens with reduced vision, darkness, eyes closed and visual acuity losses. However, it is improved by touching a stationary object which is often subjective as dizziness improves with a gait assistive device like a cane, walker, etc.
Dr. Alex Jimenez’s Insights
If you’ve ever experienced a sudden spinning or whirling sensation or even felt faint, woozy or unsteady, you’re not alone. Dizziness is a term used to describe a range of sensations and it is one of the most common reasons why many adults visit their healthcare professionals. While these false sensations can rarely signal a life-threatening condition, frequent episodes can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life. Diagnosis and treatment of dizziness can depend largely on the cause of the symptoms. Fortunately, many treatment methods used to treat dizziness are considered safe and effective.
Other causes of dizziness can be attributed to psychological stress. In this instance, the patient will describe their dizziness as a “floating” sensation. Dizziness in the kind of anxiety is frequently, but not always, caused by depression. In addition, it can be attributed to an anxiety disorder or anxiety. Various medications can also cause dizziness as a side effect. It’s essential for a healthcare professional to rule out this type of dizziness caused by hyperventilation as well as other types of dizziness. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic as well as to spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez
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