The difference between VERTIGO and DIZZINESS …and a few things in between….

I have had many patients say to me, my doctor told me I have vertigo, but I don’t know what it means. Or, I’ve heard patients and sometimes even doctors use the two terms as if they mean the same thing. As a Vestibular Rehabilitation physiotherapist, I am here to help navigate the technical terms that surround our dizzy patients.
Dizziness and Vertigo are not interchangeable terms. They describe two different symptoms, and they have different causes.

VERTIGO is a very specific symptom. Most people describe that either they feel like the room is spinning or that they feel as if they are spinning.

Where as DIZZINESS is more of a general symptom. Most people will describe a feeling of light headedness, wooziness or a sensation of fainting.

Another term in the world of vestibular rehabilitation is disequilibrium. This is another general term. Most patients with disequilibrium will have a feeling of loss of balance, motion sickness or a feeling as if they are leaning or tilting to one side.

Many people in their lifetime will experience some kind of dizziness. Dizziness is NOT a disease but rather a very common symptom of numerous conditions, sometimes related to the vestibular system and sometimes related to other factors. Examples not related to the vestibular system are, a sudden drop in blood pressure (as if you were to stand up too quickly), a side effect of a medication, low blood pressure, hypoglycaemia, headaches, excessive exercise, dehydration, concussion or alcohol.

Vertigo is again a very specific symptom and unique to the inner ear. The inner ear is the centre for balance and coordination. It detects all things related to movement and is involved in our reflexes for movement and postural control. Simply put, if we have a problem with our inner ear then we have a problem with our ability to stay upright. The technical term for the most common condition is Begin Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), which means the vertigo (the spinning sensation) occurs when you put your head in a certain position, such as when you lay down or when you turn onto your side while laying down. Most of the time this is accompanied by what’s called NYSTAGMUS. Your eyes will involuntarily beat anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and you cannot focus on any object while this is happening.

So now that you know the lingo, how can we help with your dizziness and vertigo?

At Fortius Physiotherapy Niagara we have trained physiotherapists who have experience with treating people with dizziness and vertigo through our Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) program. We are one of the few physiotherapy clinics in Niagara who offer this type of therapy. VRT is a very specific, individualized form of physiotherapy that is based on each patient’s specific complaints and diagnosis. Please contact the office if you would like to learn more about our Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy program.

Jennifer Lapierre PT, DPT