Category Archives: vertigo

Vertigo and Migraine Terminology

     It is often difficult to find information on migraine-associated vertigo. Part of the difficulty lies in the different terminnology used, even by experts, and part of thedifficulty lies with people’s informal use of various terms, especially vertigo.

     I’ll start with vertigo.  To a doctor the word refers to a sensation that either oneself or one’s surroundings are moving, usually in a spinning or whirling motion.  However, many people use the word vertigo to refer to the uneasy feeling that a person with acrophobia gets when looking over a ledge.  That is not actual vertigo, medically speaking.  Some people also use ithe word to describe a confused state of mind or a sense of disorientation.  Again, that is not how the word is defined by healthcare professionals.

     By the way, vertigo is a symptom.  It is not the name of a disorder.  It can be caused by a number of disorders, including migraine, MS, labyrinthitis, Meniere’s disease, and several others.  The first time I suffered from a vertigo episode, the doctor diagnosed me as having “vertigo.”  I could have told him that.  He was a GP, and it was several years ago.  He just didn’t know any better, as most GP’s don’t.

     An even more confusing word than vertigo is dizzy.  Apparently doctors get a bit exasperated when patients say that they feel dizzy.  The reason is that the patient can either be talking about feeling light-headed–as though one is about to faint, or about having a spinning sensation or similar false sense of motion.  A doctor needs to know which one the patient has experienced.  I remember telling one of my doctors that I had felt dizzy and he asked, “Do you mean that you felt like you were spinning or you felt as though you would faint?”  So be specific with your doctor.

     All in all, it is much better to describe one’s exact experience to a doctor.  Instead of saying, “I felt dizzy” or even, “I experienced vertigo,”  it is better, for instance, to say, “I felt like I was spinning rapidly in a clockwise direction,” or “I had a hard time walking because I felt as though I was going to tip over.”

     On the other side of the fence from the patient’s use of terms is the problem of terms used by doctors.  People who suffer from vertigo related to migraine may find the doctor using any of these terms or perhaps another:

  • migraine-associated vertigo
  • migraine-related vestibulopathy
  • vestibular migraine
  • vertiginous migraine

It is important for somebody suffering from vertigo stemming from migraine disease to know that all of these terms refer to the same condtion rather than to different conditions. 

     Another bit of confusion arises when it comes to doctors who specialize in balance disorders.  Sometimes a general practioner can help, but an otolaryngologist (Ear-Nose-and-Throat doctor) has more training and is more experienced in these disorders than a GP.  However, an even more specialized doctor is called either a neuro-otologist or a neurotologist.

     I would like to end this post with a bit of advice.  If you have experienced vertigo, do not stick with any doctor who chalks it up to just stress or anxiety.  Do not stick with a doctor who gives a diagnosis of “vertigo,” since vertigo is a symptom rather than a disorder.  Do not stick with a doctor who just gives you anti-nausea pills or tranquilizers and tells you to take them for a few weeks and you’ll be fine.

     You must be persistent until you get a firm diagnosis and a treatment plan that brings you relief.  If necessary ask for a referral to a balance specialist (neurotologist) or change doctors until you see that you are getting a knowledgeable and helpful doctor who can really help you.