Many people have experiences of dizziness and have questions about what is vertigo. Vertigo is a sensation that people describe as the feeling that they are spinning or that the world is spinning around them. Most often, vertigo is associated with an inner ear problem. To give you a background of the inner ear, you need to know that it has two parts: the vestibule and semicircular canals. The two parts help the body know where it is in relation to gravity.
The semicircular canals are fluid-filled and are lined with nerves that send signals to the brain to help with balance and coordination. Typically, when the head moves, it causes fluid in the semicircular canals to move and the information is transmitted to the brain. When the head is no longer moving, the fluid stops moving also; but sometimes there is a delay and this is the dizziness that people experience. For people with vertigo, there may be inflammation in the fluid or the nerve membrane in the semicircular canals. This can cause the spinning sensation without any head movement. Since there are three semicircular canals, when one canal is inflamed the person, experiencing vertigo can be symptom free if they lie still and don’t move.
Often people describe vertigo in terms of dizziness. Since vertigo is a sensation of spinning and loss of balance, many people think they are dizzy. While dizziness is one symptom of vertigo, if other parts of the ear are involved, there may be a ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or decreased hearing. Other symptoms could include difficulty with coordination, nausea and vomiting. Depending on the severity of the vertigo, the intensity of the nausea and vomiting will increase or decrease. The symptoms may be so severe that the person can become dehydrated and require hospitalization.
Vertigo is diagnosed by the patient history and a physical examination. It is important for doctors to confirm the symptoms of vertigo before moving to treatment. The health care practitioner may ask questions about what makes the vertigo worse and what makes it better. He may also ask if there are any signs of hearing loss or other symptoms of vertigo. One part of the physical exam is to confirm the presence of nystagmus. This is an abnormal eye movement that the body uses to try to compensate for the off-balance signals that the brain is receiving from the inner ear. It may take time for doctors to confirm that a person has vertigo considering the history, symptoms and duration of the vertigo experience.