Is it Dizziness or Vertigo? Understanding the Symptoms

According to a paper published in American Family Physician, up to 5% of primary care visits result from patients complaining of dizziness. And when patients seek treatment, they often use the terms “dizzy” and “vertigo” interchangeably. So it’s clear to many in the medical profession that men and women often don’t know the difference.

Here at Neurology Consultants of Arizona in Scottsdale, Arizona, board-certified neurologist Luay Shayya, MD, is an expert in distinguishing between dizziness and vertigo and their varying symptoms. He can help you get to the root of your problem and prescribe effective treatment.

What is dizziness?

Dizziness describes a range of sensations, including:

  • Near syncope, which is a feeling of near-fainting or lightheadedness
  • Disequilibrium, which is a feeling of being unstable on your feet and about to fall
  • Anxiety, which is where “dizziness” stands in for feelings of worry, fear, or anxiousness

What causes dizziness?

Dizziness can be caused by many situations, some of which can be benign and some of which can be serious. A serious condition, which is more common in older people, is low blood flow to the brain. This may result from heart failure or stroke, blood clots, clogged arteries, or an irregular heartbeat. You need to be aware of the signs of these conditions and seek immediate treatment if they arise.

More benign — and more common — causes include side effects from medications, such as antibiotics, blood pressure drugs, and sedatives. Also, dehydration can cause dizziness, especially among diabetics. Furthermore, low blood sugar ― which can also cause hunger, shakiness, sweating, and confusion― can also cause dizziness. Eating even a small amount of food can help you feel better.

What is vertigo and what causes it?

Vertigo is a particular type of dizziness, where the person perceives motion when there is none. You may feel like the room is spinning while you’re still. Or you may feel like you’re spinning while the room is still. Or you may feel a combination of both. Vertigo may get worse when you move your head. The sensations you feel may be due to an inner ear problem or a problem with the part of the brainstem that governs balance. A few conditions that can cause vertigo include the following:

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo 

The most common kind of vertigo is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. Your inner ear contains a labyrinth of fluid-filled canals, and the motion of the fluid tells your brain how your head is moving. With BPPV, small calcium crystals located in the ear break off and float in the tubes. 

The crystals interfere with the fluid’s movement, which can cause sensations of movement even when you’re not moving. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo most often occurs due to age or from head injuries, which can dislodge the crystals.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo may go away on its own, or your doctor may prescribe the Epley maneuver, in which your head is manipulated in a series of motions to restore the crystals to their normal locations.


Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the nerves inside your ear, and it can cause intense periods of vertigo lasting for hours. You may feel fullness, pressure, or ringing in your ears, loss of hearing, nausea, anxiety, and exhaustion after the attack passes. If the condition is caused by bacteria, antibiotics can help. If it’s caused by a virus, you will likely have to wait it out for a few weeks.

Meniere’s disease

Meniere’s disease is a common culprit for causing vertigo, and it occurs when there’s too much fluid in the inner ear. Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes it, and there is no cure. It’s usually treated by changing to a low-salt diet and taking medicine to control the dizziness.

Should I seek treatment for vertigo?

You should seek medical help immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms at the same time as your dizziness or vertigo begins:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Tremors in your arms or legs
  • Sudden headache or neck pain
  • Muscle weakness in your arms, legs, or face
  • Double vision
  • Inability to move one or both eyes
  • Drooping eyelid in one eye

These may be signs that you’re having a heart attack or stroke.

If you’re experiencing “routine” symptoms, come in to the office, and Dr. Shayya will perform a physical and neurological exam as well as diagnostic tests as needed. At that point, he’ll develop a customized treatment based on the underlying cause of your symptoms.

If you’re experiencing dizziness or vertigo, book an appointment online or over the phone with Neurology Consultants of Arizona today.

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