Written by Heidi Nestor, Writer and Editor, Life Alert

Everything is spinning, your heart beats faster with every whirling sensation, your stomach leaps into your throat, your brain seems to rotate as you spiral up and down, and you feel more nauseous than a room full of pregnant women with morning sickness. No, you’re not on a ride at Disneyland, you have Vertigo.

The online article, Vertigo, by HealthScout explains that dizziness and vertigo are often used interchangeable, but they are not the same thing, “While all vertigo is dizziness, not all dizziness is vertigo”, and because of this Vertigo can be misdiagnosed.

The article goes on to say that there are four major types of dizziness - vertigo, presyncope, disequilibrium, and lightheadedness, and that “most patients with true vertigo have a peripheral vestibular disorder, such as benign positional vertigo”, as Emma from Byron, MI discovered one day:

I was suffering from “dizziness” and I couldn’t get up off the couch. Fortunately, I was wearing my Life Alert pendant. I pushed the button and Life Alert answered right away. They said help was on the way, and someone stayed on the line until help got there, and then they took me to emergency. I was diagnosed with acute, benign-positional vertigo.

Two of the most common forms of Vertigo are Central, which can be caused by Migraines, M.S. or other diseases that can affect the brain, and Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), a frequent diagnosis that if you try saying it 3 times fast you might just get dizzy yourself.

BPPV is what Emma had, and can be triggered by motion sickness such as sudden head movements. You know the kind, when you get up quick from the couch during a commercial break to run to the loo. BPPV generally is caused by inner ear problems when calcium crystals or canal rocks (canalithiasis) are dislodged from the utricle and move to the semicircular canals. So if the doctor says your dizziness is due to having rocks in your head, you’ll know he’s not insulting you but actually giving you a diagnosis.

The Michigan Ear Institute posted a simple explanation of BPPV:

BPPV or Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo is one of the most common disorders of the inner ear that results in vertigo. It is due to particles [rocks or crystals] that have collected in the fluid filled inner ear. These particles float in the fluid and will occasionally touch a sensitive area resulting in the sensation of vertigo. The name of this disorder is derived from the fact that BPPV is benign (not life threatening), paroxysmal (dizziness occurs suddenly and is generally brief) and it is positional (dizziness occurs with particular head positions).

The article goes on to explain that symptoms can be different with each person but is mostly brought on by movement or position changes of the head such as laying back, tilting the head backwards, rolling over in bed, getting up quickly, (or doing loop-de-loops on a rollercoaster).

BPPV symptoms can last for a few seconds or up to a few months. In extreme cases, the problem may not go away, or come back after it’s been resolved by your doctor. Though a doctor may be able to properly diagnosis you and assign a treatment, the Michigan Ear Institute claims that “medications are rarely effective” when treating BPPV.

Other medical conditions such as, migraines, multiple sclerosis, Ménière's disease, and any kind of head trauma can trigger a Vertigo episode. In any event, if you feel a dizzy spell coming on it’s best not to try to drive yourself to the hospital. Instead, play it safe and get yourself a "Life Alert pendant like Emma did. That way you’ll have emergency service at the tip of your fingers. Oh, and you may want to stay off those Disneyland rides…do you hear me Aunt Emma?

Works Cited
“What is BPPV?” Michigan Ear Institute, P.L.L.C. 1998-2008. 1 December 2009 .
"Vertigo." HealthScout. 1 April 2009. Health Encyclopedia - Diseases and Conditions. November 27, 2009 .

“Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 25 November 2009. 1 December 2009 Wikipedia.
Lai, John C. “Benign Positional Vertigo.” Emedicine. April 27, 2009. Emedicine Neurology. November 24, 2009 EMedicine.

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