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Vertigo: A Dizzying Condition

Its effects can be slight or severe

SUNDAY, March 2, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Not to be confused with simple dizziness or lightheadedness, vertigo is a spinning sensation that often indicates a viral infection of the inner ear.

However, it can also signal a problem with the cerebellum or the brain stem, according to the American Medical Association's Family Medical Guide.

The effect can be slight, or so severe the affected person falls to the ground as if thrown.

One of the most common types of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which can be brought on by a simple action like shifting your position in bed.

BPPV is believed to be caused by free-floating calcium carbonate crystals in the inner ear -- the body's organ of balance -- and can result in lightheadedness accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sweating and a skin pallor. These symptoms usually come on suddenly and go away in less than 30 seconds, the guide says.

On the other hand, vertigo can be a sign of a serious health condition, such as a brain tumor, multiple sclerosis or Ménière's disease, a rare disorder of the hearing and balancing mechanisms in the inner ear. In such cases, other symptoms and signs are usually evident.

More severe vertigo, especially if associated with deafness, may be caused by a disorder of the nerve mechanism for balance in the cerebellum or its connections, resulting from poor blood supply from narrowed arteries.

Treatment of vertigo involves identification and removal of the cause, if possible, and relief of symptoms. An antihistamine is often recommended to relieve the abnormal sensations associated with vertigo, while an antibiotic may be prescribed for infection.

More information

To learn more about vertigo, visit the National Library of Medicine.

SOURCE: American Medical Association Family Medical Guide; National Library of Medicine
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