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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.

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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.”

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.

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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.”

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.”

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