© 2021 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Feeling Dizzy? What You Need To Know About Vertigo

Carla Eckels

A growing number of patients suffer from vertigo, an unsettling sense of one's environment spinning or moving.

Carol Taylor, 68, recalls the first time she had vertigo after a shopping excursion.

She had spent an entire Saturday shopping with friends, doing what they call "shop 'til you drop."

Which, she says, is exactly what she did when she got home.

"I found out later it was a vertigo attack," she says. "I went from an upright position to laying flat on the floor."

She was also sick to her stomach and extremely disoriented.

"There's no balance," says Taylor. "There's no stability."

Dr. Robert Jensen is associate professor of neuro-ophthalmology and neuro-otology at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. He says vertigo is the result of eye movement.

"When the eyes move, the visual world moves and the patient is uncertain of where they are in space," he says. "

Jensen says vertigo patients usually cannot walk and resort to crawling. Vertigo is also usually accompanied by significant nausea and vomiting.

"Given the unpredictability of this affliction coming for no apparent reason, at least no apparent reason to the patient, they are uncomfortable in all life activities because it is completely devastating," he says.

There are different types of vertigo and the symptoms vary. The most common type is benign paroxysmal positioning vertigo (BPPV), and it is usually caused by an acceleration of the head.

BPPV is often caused by movements made while getting out or rolling over in bed, or looking and reaching upward.

"Typically, it will have a latency of about five seconds before the vertigo sets in," says Jenson. "And some people may not make the association of the start of the vertigo with the movement because of this delay."

Age is a risk factor for some types vertigo, and is the primary risk factor for BPPV.

The other major risk factor is trauma, some kind of fall or an auto accident.

Or, says Jenson, it could be the sum of many small bumps and falls.

"It may be that as we get older we have the cumulative effects of lots of little traumas and bumps along the way," he says. "And that may be the reason that the incidence is higher as we get older."

"But," he adds, "it can happen to anyone."

When examining a patient Jensen says his staff usually tries to reproduce the feeling of dizziness. If they can reproduce the eye movements, then they can usually resolve the problem with a positioning maneuver.

"At which point the patient is cured," he says.

Jensen says it is inherent in the cause of BPPV that if the patient remains perfectly still for 90 to 120 seconds, the irritation and eye movements will stop and the world will come to stillness.

"If that does not occur, then we have to rethink the source of the vertigo," he says.

Another cause of vertigo is a problem with the inner ear.

That is what caused super-shopper Carolyn Taylor's vertigo.

Taylor went to the emergency room for treatment and ended up taking an over-the-counter medicine called Meclizine, the active ingredient found in Dramamine.

Jensen says Meclizine can reduce the sensation of vertigo, but is not a silver bullet.

Whatever the symptoms, Jensen says if you are experiencing vertigo it is important to get help right away because symptoms of vertigo carry significant implications for overall health.

Tuesday at noon, Jensen will give a lecture called "Get the 360 on Vertigo" as part of the University of Kansas Live & Learn Lecture Series held in Roberts Amphitheater at the KU School of Medicine-Wichita.