Do I have vertigo?

We have had a number of vestibular rehab patients asking this question recently so we wanted to try and break it down.

Symptom rather than diagnosis

Vertigo is a symptom rather than a diagnosis. So the question “Do I have vertigo?” is a bit like asking me “Do I have pain?” if you presented to the clinic with a sore back.  We have had a few people who have been told by health care professionals that they have vertigo, or sometimes it is phrased “you just have vertigo”.  Often this is done with the intention of reassuring somebody that they do not have a serious underlying pathology.  However, this is not very helpful because it doesn’t give us any information about what is causing the symptoms.

It can also make patients feel that they have not been properly listened to.  Anyone who tells a patient that they “just have vertigo” has not suffered from vertigo themselves!

So what is vertigo?

The symptom of vertigo is typically associated with a spinning sensation, like the room is spinning around you. However we can understand it as an umbrella term that can cover a huge range of symptoms.  Some of the common symptoms that patients describe include:

– Dizziness.
– Sense of being off balance.
– Feeling overwhelmed by certain stimuli.
– Usually visual stimuli like bright lights or busy situations.
– Feeling like they have just stepped off a boat.
– Fuzzy/muzzy/woozy feeling in their head.
– Feels like the world is coming up to meet them.
– Giddiness.

History of symptoms

The description of their symptoms can tell us a little about what is going on, but not enough on their own.

The history of their symptoms can give us a lot of information.  For example, a neuronitis may present initially as a very severe episode of vertigo which usually settles down after a week but the patient may still be having difficulty with milder symptoms.  Where as Meniere’s disease will present as episodes of vertigo that last for a few hours at a time or BPPV will present as episodic vertigo that only lasts for seconds at a time.

The sort of thing that provokes a patient’s symptoms will also give us valuable information.  For example, if the symptoms are associated with a change in position or head movement, this will usually indicate an issue with the inner ear.  Somebody who is triggered more by certain environmental stimuli may be suffering from vestibular migraines or may be compensating poorly for an inner ear that is not functioning as well as it should be.

Any associated symptoms can also be helpful.  For example, hearing loss is associated with Meniere’s Disease.

Our assessment process

In the initial assessment, all of these things and more are discussed in a lot of detail to try to put together a picture of what might be cause the patient’s symptoms.  At the end of all these questions, we will usually have an idea of what the cause might be.  A range of tests are then carried out to confirm or deny this theory at the initial appointment.  It is based on this assessment that we can identify what has triggered the patient’s symptoms and a plan is put in place to best treat your vertigo symptoms.

PMC Physio Dunboyne recommendation

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above or your are concerned about poor balance, contact one of our physios at PMC Physiotherapy Dunboyne and get it checked out.


PMC Physiotherapy Clinic, Unit 36, Dunboyne Business Park, Dunboyne, Co Meath

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