Imagine if you were to go to the doctor with a sore throat and the doctor diagnosed you with a sore throat. You would probably say something like, “Duh! I know I have a sore throat, but what’s causing it?”
Sore throat is not a diagnosis, a sore throat is a symptom of a condition such as strep throat, laryngitis, etc. These are the kinds of diagnoses you would expect your doctor to make once they evaluate your sore throat. Depending on the specific diagnosis, your doctor will recommend the appropriate treatment.
This is the same scenario for vertigo. Vertigo is the sensation that you are spinning, or that the world is moving around you.
So, if you were to go the doctor with vertigo and they told you that you have vertigo, it does you very little good.
You may be prescribed a medication to relieve the vertigo, but just as a throat lozenge relieves the pain of a sore throat, it does not treat the underlying condition. It is important to determine what the cause of the vertigo actually is, not just “cover up” the symptom of vertigo. Once this is determined, proper treatment can begin.
What Causes Vertigo?
Vertigo is often caused by a condition of the inner ear.
This may include BPPV, Meniere’s Disease, vestibular labyrinthitis or neuritis, or other ear disorders. Vertigo caused by a disorder of the inner ear is called peripheral vertigo. An Otolaryngologist, Otologist, and Audiologist are the most qualified professionals to diagnosis a condition causing peripheral vertigo.
Other causes of vertigo, called central vertigo, can include conditions such as stroke, tumor of the cerebellum, migraine, or other condition affecting the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis. Vertigo may also occur following a head or neck injury such as whiplash, as well as a side-effect of certain medications.
If vertigo hits you for the first time, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. If you begin by seeing your primary care physician, they will likely recommend further evaluation by a specialist to determine whether the vertigo is caused by one of the peripheral or central conditions.
Treatment for Vertigo
The method of treatment is going to vary dramatically depending on what is causing it, which is why it is crucial to determine the root cause. Diagnosing the cause of vertigo will likely include a thorough history of the symptoms, a neurologic evaluation, a Dix-Hallpike test if BPPV is suspected, a videonystagmography evaluation if peripheral vertigo is suspected, an audiologic evaluation of hearing if hearing is affected, and in some cases an MRI or CT Scan.
Just because someone you know had vertigo, it does not necessarily mean that your vertigo should be treated the same way. For example, the management for BPPV versus Meniere’s Disease versus stroke are very different.
Vertigo should not be the final diagnosis, as it is not the disorder itself, but a symptom of an underlying condition.
If you experience vertigo, see a doctor as soon as possible. It is important to immediately rule out a life-threatening cause of vertigo such as a stroke, followed by a thorough evaluation to determine the root cause.