Unbalanced, faint, foggy, lightheaded, spinning — these are all words often used in conjunction with dizziness, a condition that sends 3 million Americans to the emergency room each year.
And, if you’re like many of our patients, you may use the terms “vertigo” and “dizziness” interchangeably, but vertigo is actually a distinct condition.
If you’re feeling unsteady on your feet and you want to know whether you have vertigo or some other issue, board-certified neurologist Dr. Paul Gill of Gill Neuroscience takes a deeper dive into dizziness and vertigo here.
Dizziness is really a catchall term for a host of symptoms that includes fogginess, lightheadedness, faintness, and wooziness. A person can become dizzy for dozens of reasons, from low blood pressure to drinking too much alcohol.
Vertigo, on the other hand, is far more specific, as it describes a sensation in which you are moving or the world around you is moving. The sensations associated with vertigo are often described as spinning or tilting, which can make you feel unsteady and off balance, and even lead to motion sickness.
Vertigo is specifically tied to your body’s vestibular system, which is located in your inner ear. This system informs your brain about your body position and location in space so that you can maintain balance.
Common forms of vertigo stem from issues in your inner ear, which are grouped under peripheral vertigo, and include:
This condition is the most common cause of vertigo — 20% of people who seek help for dizziness have BPPV. The hallmark of this inner ear disorder is experiencing vertigo when you change your head position.
BPPV is largely due to calcium carbonate particles that migrate in your ear, though the condition can also be the result of inner ear infections.
This is a rare inner ear disorder that leads to sudden attacks of vertigo in which the world spins around you, even though you’re standing still. This disease is inherited and can also lead to tinnitus and hearing loss.
Inflammation in the labyrinth in your inner ear can lead to vertigo. Untreated, labyrinthitis can lead to permanent hearing loss.
This condition affects the vestibulocochlear nerve in your inner ear and can lead to vertigo.
While most vertigo stems from a problem in your inner ear, the issue can also originate in your brain, which is referred to as central vertigo. This is a far less common cause of vertigo than inner ear disorders and typically involves strokes, brain injuries, or brain infections.
Whether you have vertigo or dizziness, you need medical help. Feeling unbalanced and unsteady on your feet is not only disconcerting — it can be very dangerous.