Experiencing vertigo means things around you feel they are moving or spinning, and is a more extreme form of dizziness.
The symptoms can be very distressing and if the sensations last sometime, they can interfere with a person's usual activities.
Vertigo isn't a condition itself, but is a symptom of other health conditions.
If there are other serious symptoms alongside vertigo, such as loss of consciousness, seek urgent medical attention.
Vertigo does not describe a person who is afraid of heights or gets dizzy high up. The term for that phobia is acrophobia.
Vertigo symptoms can be very brief or may last longer - from a matter of seconds to some days.
As well as the spinning sensation, vertigo symptoms can include:
Being very dizzy can lead to falls and injuries, so seek medical advice about vertigo symptoms.
Causes of vertigo
The body's balance system involves the brain, ears and eyes.
Doctors call vertigo caused by problems in the ears peripheral vertigo.
Vertigo due to brain problems is called central vertigo.
Peripheral vertigo causes:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Head movements, standing or bending can trigger symptoms due to the movement of small crystals that can form in the ear. As well as vertigo symptoms, the person's eyes may move about uncontrollably, called nystagmus. BPPV is more common in people over 50. It isn't always known why it comes on, but ear infections, operations on the ears, head injuries and spending a long time lying down increase the chances of BPPV developing.
Head injuries. Vertigo can develop after a head or brain injury. Head injuries can be serious for many reasons other than vertigo, so always seek medical advice if they happen.
Labyrinthitis. This is an infection in the maze of channels far inside the ear that help with balance as well as hearing. Labyrinthitis can develop after a cold or flu virus, or from bacteria. As well as causing vertigo, the condition can be very painful.
Vestibular neuronitis (vestibular neuritis). This condition causes inflammation of the inner ear, usually because of a virus.
Ménière's disease. This is a rare and progressive long-term condition affecting the inner ear in attacks that come on quickly and may last several hours.
Side-effects of some medication: Vertigo and dizziness can be caused by taking some medications. If so, this should be listed in the leaflet that comes with the drugs. Never stop taking a medication without seeking medical advice, but your doctor may be able to recommend an alternative if symptoms are too troublesome.
Central vertigo causes include:
Migraines. A severe form of headache that can cause other symptoms, including vertigo.
Multiple sclerosis (MS). An autoimmune condition where the body's defences wrongly attack the coating of nerves. This scrambles signals causing a range of problems, which may include balance difficulty and vertigo.
Brain tumours: These include acoustic neuroma, a tumour that is not cancer (benign) affecting the acoustic nerve that transmits messages about balance and sounds. Brain tumours affecting the cerebellum area of the brain can also cause vertigo.
Stroke, transient ischaemic attack (TIA or 'mini stroke’). Vertigo can result from the loss of blood supply to the brain during a stroke or TIA.
Side-effects of some medications.