November 20, 2019

Are Vertigo and Dizziness the Same Thing?

Whether you’re feeling unsteady or like you’re spinning – get it checked out

Illustration of woman suffering from vertigo

If you’ve ever had a case of the spins then you’ve probably wondered about vertigo.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

The trouble is, there are many variations to your equilibrium feeling wonky – vertigo, dizziness, unsteadiness, off balance. It can be hard to recognize if you’re just feeling dizzy or if you’re experiencing true vertigo.

“It used to be that dizziness was the umbrella term and vertigo fit underneath it,” explains audiologist Julie Honaker, PhD. “But now we’re finding that dizziness is very separate from vertigo.”

Dizziness is an altered sense of spatial orientation, a distortion of where we are within a space and like your balance just feels off. Vertigo, on the other hand, is truly the sensation of self-movement or the movement of your surroundings – it’s a spinning sensation.

“Vertigo can be very debilitating,” says Dr. Honaker. “It can bring on other symptoms of imbalance too. I think the scariest thing is the fact that it comes on so abruptly. Even though it’s very short, it’s a very, very strong response.”

Advertisement

Our balance system is our sixth sense and sometimes we don’t fully appreciate it until something goes wrong with it.

What causes dizziness and vertigo?

Your balance system is complex. There can be numerous reasons why something is throwing it off, including:

  • Normal aging.
  • Neurological disorders.
  • Cardiovascular reasons such as changes in your blood pressure.
  • Ear-related issues (sometimes from injury or sometimes from birth).
  • Head injuries or trauma.
  • Medication.
  • Pregnancy and other hormonal changes.

What if I keep feeling dizzy or experiencing vertigo?

If you’ve been experiencing balance issues of any kind, you should first and foremost check in with your doctor. It’s important to understand what’s triggering this reaction or to see if there’s a pattern. Do you remember what you were doing at the time when your vertigo came on? Do you have other related symptoms like nausea or head pain? Was it brought on from a change in position?

“If we can start to identify these types of things with your vertigo, it will help us properly diagnose you and get you on the correct management path,” Dr. Honaker says. “You can even start by seeing your primary care doctor first.”

Advertisement

Sometimes there are very common reasons for experiencing dizziness and vertigo and they can be easily addressed and managed.

How to avoid balance problems

One of the best things you can do for your balance system is to take care of yourself. This means being active, eating well and annually seeing your physician to make sure everything is in check. You want to make sure your body is working in its prime, which can ward off symptoms of dizziness and vertigo.

“We don’t start to appreciate decline until we notice changes, like symptoms of vertigo or problems with our ability to walk or not feeling as steady as we used to,” says Dr. Honaker. “That’s when we start to notice things going awry. For preventative measures, the best thing to do is maintain good health.”

Related Articles

woman suffering from dizziness
July 12, 2022
Can High Blood Pressure Make You Feel Dizzy?

Dizziness typically falls into two categories

A dizzy person sits up in bed and braces their head for relief.
June 7, 2022
6 Reasons Why You Wake Up Dizzy

Mornings can be hard enough without feeling dizzy, too

Two people help a third person who is feeling dizzy
April 24, 2022
Can Allergies Make You Dizzy?

An allergist explains this uncommon but unsettling symptom

A photo of someone holding and massaging their left wrist
March 28, 2022
4 Early Signs of MS You Shouldn’t Ignore

Watch out for vision loss, facial paralysis, limb weakness and dizziness

dizzy woman
December 13, 2021
Why Loose Ear Crystals Make You Dizzy and How To Fix Them

You may feel dizzy, or just lightheaded and unsteady

woman experiencing dizziness while outside
May 26, 2021
When I Stand Up Suddenly, I Feel Dizzy — Should I Worry?

The short answer from a cardiologist

woman dizzy and has fallen down
June 14, 2020
Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Dizziness Problems

Causes and treatments are wide-ranging

Pregnant woman suffering from a dizzy spell
November 26, 2019
Why Do Pregnant People Get Vertigo?

The short answer from a balance disorders specialist

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad