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The Main Types and Subtypes of Vertigo

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  • Vertigo has two main types — peripheral and central vertigo
  • To be diagnosed with cervical vertigo, problems in your inner ear and central nervous system must be ruled out first

Vertigo has two main types — peripheral and central vertigo. A third and special type is sometimes diagnosed when peripheral and central vertigo have been ruled out, which is further discussed below.

Peripheral Vertigo Is Caused by Problems in Your Inner Ear

The inner ear is responsible for translating the air vibrations into signals that your brain processes as sound, via tiny hair cells in your cochlea. It's also responsible for keeping your balance when you move, thanks to the utricle and saccule. But when the signals in your ear don't match the signals coming from your eyes, this confuses your brain, causing peripheral vertigo. There are several subtypes of this condition that you can learn about below:1

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) — BPPV occurs when small crystal deposits in your inner ear become loose and float around the fluids in your inner ear. As you move your head, you'll typically feel like the whole world is spinning around you, causing you to lose your balance even if you're not making significant movements at all. The onset of vertigo is very sudden, and can last for a few seconds to a few minutes.2

Labyrinthitis — Your labyrinth is composed of a network of fluid-filled tunnels that has two purposes. The first is to send sound signals to be processed by your brain. The second is to control your balance by sending information to your brain regarding your head's current position and movement.3

When your labyrinth becomes inflamed, this condition is known as labyrinthitis. Similar to BPPV, it can cause vertigo because the signals that your eyes are sending to your brain are not synchronized with what your ears are sending. Aside from vertigo, labyrinthitis can cause nausea, tinnitus and loss of hearing in the affected ear.

Meniere's disease — Meniere's disease is the buildup of a fluid called endolymph in the labyrinth. This happens when the labyrinth suffers from a problem in the drainage system (endolymphatic duct). As a result, you'll feel a sense of fullness or pressure on the affected ear, along with vertigo. Other symptoms of this condition include imbalance, nausea and reduced hearing in the affected ear.4

Migraine-associated vertigo — The American Migraine Foundation states that around 30% to 50% of those who experience migraines may also develop vertigo. There are no specific triggers, as it may even occur without having a migraine itself. Simple things such as moving your head may already cause you to feel dizzy.5

Central Vertigo May Indicate a Problem in Your Nervous System

Central vertigo may happen due to a sports-related head injury, a virus that affects your brain, a brain tumor, or a stroke. The symptoms induced by central vertigo last longer and is more intense compared to peripheral vertigo, but your hearing isn't typically affected. Below are the different subtypes of vertigo associated with your central nervous system:

  • Migraine-induced vertigo — A migraine is more severe and disorienting compared to the usual headache. Due to the intensity of the pain, it may cause you to experience spontaneous vertigo attacks that are often accompanied with nausea and vomiting. Certain foods may trigger a migraine, but other factors include sleep disturbances and hormonal fluctuations.6
  • Multiple sclerosis — This disease can attack the nerves responsible for maintaining proper balance and spatial awareness. If there's nerve damage, the information sent to the brain is mismatched, which can lead to vertigo.7
  • Acoustic neuritis — Acoustic neuroma is characterized by the growth of a nonmalignant tumor on the cranial nerve located deep in your inner ear. The tumor induces vertigo by creating pressure on the adjacent nerves, along with other symptoms such as hearing loss and headaches. It may also cause facial numbness when the tumor presses against your trigeminal nerve.8
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Cervical Vertigo May Indicate a Neck Problem

Cervical vertigo is a special kind of vertigo that is not related to a problem in your inner ear or your brain. The exact mechanics aren't fully understood, but there are two theories on how this disease develops:9

  • Poor posture — Research published in 1996 notes that patients with cervical vertigo experienced relief from their symptoms after undergoing physiotherapy.10
  • Musculoskeletal pain — A 2009 study discovered that musculoskeletal diseases are a regular symptom of people diagnosed with cervical vertigo, such as neck tenderness and orthostatic hypotension.11

Cervical vertigo is typically regarded as a "diagnosis of exclusion." This means that doctors only arrive at this conclusion if all other possible sources of vertigo are still not determined.12


Vertigo: Introduction

What is Vertigo?

How Do You Get Vertigo?

Vertigo Duration

Vertigo Causes

Vertigo Types

Vertigo Symptoms

Vertigo Treatment

Vertigo Prevention

Vertigo Diet

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