Vertigo – Causes and Types

Vertigo or dizziness is the feeling of imbalance. When you have vertigo you feel that either you or the surroundings around you are spinning. It is a symptom, of a variety of conditions, rather than a disease. Vertigo causes can be inside the inner ear, brain or nerve pathway. The problem can occur at any age but is more common in the elderly.

Attacks of vertigo are mild in some but severe and intolerable in others. They last from a few seconds to many hours or days. Moreover, during a severe episode, one may not be even able to lift up his head from bed. We shall see about the causes, symptoms and types of vertigo in this post. We shall be discussing about the treatment in our next post.

sense of spinning of surroundings in vertigo
Sensation of spinning of surroundings


The following are the common complaints that people suffering from vertigo say-

  1. Spinning
  2. Swaying
  3. Pulled to one direction
  4. Imbalance
  5. Weakness
  6. Nausea feeling
  7. Vomiting
  1. Headache
  2. Ringing sound in ear
  3. Hearing loss
  4. Fullness of ears
  5. Sweating
  6. Jerky eye movements
  7. Heaviness

Although the list is long, not all symptoms occur together. Usually it is the spinning sensation that occurs most commonly. Other symptoms may accompany depending on the cause of vertigo. Above all, the presence or absence of specific accompanying symptoms, helps us doctors, to diagnose the condition.

what are the types of vertigo?

There are two types, peripheral and central vertigo, based on the causes. The first one, peripheral vertigo, occurs due to problems in the inner ear. Remember that the inner ear is the sensory organ for hearing as well as balance. Inner ear problems causing vertigo are more common than others. The second one, central vertigo, occurs due to defects in the brain, brainstem or cerebellum. The cerebellum is situated where the neck meets the head, whereas the brainstem connects the spinal cord to the brain.

what causes vertigo?

The peripheral causes of vertigo are BPPV, Meniere’s disease, Labyrinthitis, head injury, ear infections and certain medications.


BPPV is the short form for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. In this, calcium particles get dislodged from their normal location and come to lie in the pathway of inner ear fluids. As a result, head movements trigger vertigo.


The inflammation of inner ear is called labyrinthitis. It is caused by viruses or bacteria, with viruses being more common. This is a serious condition as it causes loss of hearing. Unless the condition is diagnosed and treated swiftly, the loss may be permanent. Another variant where hearing is preserved and only balance is affected is vestibular neuronitis.


Changes in fluid dynamics of the inner ear produces Meniere’s disease. One of the inner ear fluids in play is the endolymph. It is produced more than usual causing swelling inside the inner ear producing symptoms. It includes fluctuant hearing loss, episodic vertigo and ear fullness. Patients may be able to predict the onset of an attack of vertigo in Meniere’s.


Certain medications can cause vertigo as side effect. You will be able to find out whether your medicine can cause vertigo if you read the leaflet enclosed. If you find that your medicine can cause vertigo, then talk to your doctor about it. He may be able to give you an alternative.

ear infections

Middle ear infections sometimes produce vertigo. Above all, cholesteatoma, which is a dangerous form of middle ear infection, can eat away the bones protecting the inner ear structures. As a result the inner ear structures responsible for hearing and balance are exposed to outside. Vertigo ensues.

vertigo in pregnancy

Due to hormonal changes in pregnancy, women may feel imbalance and spinning. In addition to that, weight gain during pregnancy also plays a role in producing dizziness. The feeling is more during the second and third trimesters.


Migraines, multiple sclerosis, brain tumor and stroke result in vertigo of central nature. These disorders affect the brain and its nerve connections and produce symptoms. The treatment of each differs. Lastly certain abnormalities in blood vessels inside the brain also makes your head dizzy. In these situations, we frequently ask for an MRI scan of the brain.

does one inherit vertigo?

Vertigo is a symptom and not a disease. The symptom is not inherited. However, the diseases which cause vertigo may be inherited. For instance, BPPV and Meniere’s disease have some genetic basis. Therefore, you may have a higher chance of developing vertigo if anyone in your family suffers from it.

Vertigo patients feel spinning of head
Pictorial representation of sense of spinning

We shall see more about vertigo regarding treatment and home remedies in our next post. Please subscribe to our newsletter if you find our posts useful. Do send in your comments to

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