Overview of Vertigo

Spinning Ride - Dizziness Image

Vertigo, or dizziness, is a symptom, not a disease. The term vertigo refers to the sensation of spinning or whirling that occurs as a result of a disturbance in balance (equilibrium). It also may be used to describe feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness, faintness and unsteadiness. The sensation of movement is called subjective vertigo and the perception of movement in surrounding objects is called objective vertigo.

Vertigo usually occurs as a result of a disorder in the vestibular system (i.e., structures of the inner ear, the vestibular nerve, brainstem and cerebellum). The vestibular system is responsible for integrating sensory stimuli and movement and for keeping objects in visual focus as the body moves. Benign paroxysmal position vertigo (BPPV) is a common cause for dizziness.

When the head moves, signals are transmitted to the labyrinth, which is an apparatus in the inner ear that is made up of three semicircular canals surrounded by fluid. The labyrinth then transmits movement information to the vestibular nerve and the vestibular nerve carries the information to the brainstem and cerebellum (areas of the brain that control balance, posture, and motor coordination). There are a number of different causes for dizzy spells.

Incidence and Prevalence of Vertigo

Vertigo is one of the most common health problems in adults. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 40 percent of people in the United States experience feeling dizzy at least once during their lifetime. Prevalence is slightly higher in women and increases with age.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 27 Feb 2014