Is Vertigo the Same as Dizziness? Can Anything Be Done to Help It?

One of the most common reasons for people to see their primary care doctor is for dizziness, disequilibrium, or vertigo. These are symptoms resulting from one of the following:

  • A peripheral vestibular disorder: A malfunction of the balance organs of the inner ear.
  • A central vestibular disorder: A malfunction of one or more parts of the central nervous system that has a vital job in processing balance and spatial orientation.

Vertigo, disequilibrium, and dizziness are linked together by a common cause, in many cases. However, they are not the same thing. Describing them to your doctor properly is important for one to get the right help. So, how do they differ?

  • Dizziness: A sensation of lightheadedness, faintness, or unsteadiness
  • Vertigo: A spinning or rotational component; the sensation of movement when there is none
  • Disequilibrium: Unsteadiness, imbalance, or loss of equilibrium often accompanied by spatial disorientation

We all have probably experienced a little disorientation at one time or another. This may have happened if you’ve ever watched a 3-D movie and felt as if you were falling or moving as the images rushed past. However, if you are experiencing vertigo episodes, whether they last a few minutes or for days, you probably have a vestibular disorder happening. This is especially true if vertigo occurs when you move your head a certain way.

Vestibular Disorders

Let’s talk about how the body maintains balance through sensory information. It uses three main systems:

  • The vestibular system — in the inner ear
  • Vision – the eyes
  • Proprioception — touch sensors located in the body, spine, and feet

The brainstem is where the signals from these three systems are processed and combined. In response to these signals, messages are sent to the eyes in order to maintain steady vision and to the muscles to help them know how to maintain balance and posture.

When the vestibular system is in good working order, it supplies perfectly reliable information about where you are located in your environment. Some improper signals from vision or proprioception can be dealt with. For example, think about sitting at a railroad crossing in your vehicle. When a train passes, you may feel as if you are drifting or moving. But, the brainstem can handle this and understand what is really going on. However, when it comes to actual abnormalities in the vestibular system, they are much more difficult to handle. The vestibular system can be compared to a referee having to decide which team is in the right. However, when this system is not working properly, it is no help in solving these conflicts and can result in vertigo, dizziness, and disequilibrium.

What Causes Vertigo to Occur?

Most commonly, malfunctions of the vestibular system that lead to vertigo and other problems, have to do with a head injury. In some cases, viruses, aging, environmental factors, genetics, and other illnesses may play a role. Here are some common causes of dizziness and vertigo:

  • Autoimmune inner ear disease: Cogan’s syndrome, Wegener’s granulomatosis, systemic lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis
  • Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis: Inflammation caused by a virus and resulting in damage to vestibular function and/or hearing.
  • BPPV or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: Loose debris that collects in a part of the ear it does not belong in.
  • Cervicogenic dizziness: A clinical syndrome of disequilibrium and disorientation in patients with neck problems that may include trauma or arthritis.
  • Middle ear pressure changes: Colds and allergies can cause swelling of the Eustachian tube or fluid buildup in the middle ear.
  • Cholesteatoma: A skin growth that happens in the middle ear behind the eardrum.
  • Acoustic neuroma: A benign tumor that grows on the vestibulocochlear nerve.
  • Meniere’s disease: Abnormalities of quantity, composition, or pressure of the fluid in the inner ear.
  • MAV – migraine associated vertigo: Pounding or throbbing head pain accompanied by vertigo.
  • Otitis media: A bacterial infection of the middle ear
  • Otosclerosis: An abnormal bone growth in the middle ear
  • Ototoxicity: Caused by exposure to certain chemicals that damage the nerve hair cells of the inner ear or the vestibulocochlear nerve.
  • Perilymph fistula: A tear in the oval or round membrane that separates the middle ear from the fluid-filled inner ear.

As you can see, there are a number of conditions that may cause vertigo, dizziness, and disequilibrium. But the question is: can anything be done for it?

Vertigo Alleviated Through Proper Spinal Alignment

Here at True Alignment Chiropractic in Lacey, Washington, we have had much success in helping our patients with vertigo. We have seen time and again that a misalignment in the bones of the upper cervical spine can have a huge impact on the onset of vertigo. As mentioned earlier, the brainstem processes much of the information regarding balance and orientation. The C1 and C2 bones in the upper neck are designed to protect the brainstem and keep it in working order. However, if they endure trauma, they may become misaligned. If this occurs, the brainstem is now put under stress and does not work as it’s supposed to. Therefore, if the brainstem is sending improper signals to the brain about the body’s location, vertigo will very likely be the end result.

We use a very gentle method to help these bones realign. We do not have to pop the neck or crack the back to get positive results. In fact, by encouraging the bones to realign more naturally, the end result is an adjustment that stays in place longer than one that uses force. Many of our patients and those in case studies report a great improvement in their vertigo, dizziness, and disequilibrium after only a few adjustments.

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