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Understanding My Symptoms: Vertigo vs Dizziness

Dizziness is a strange phenomenon and anyone who has experienced episodes of dizziness will understand how difficult it can be to describe what is happening. When asked, dizziness can mean very different things to different people. Descriptions include: spinning sensations, feelings of light headedness or faintness, unsteadiness/off balance, feeling like the floor is rocking, floating sensations, fogginess, and disorientation.

Often times dizziness and vertigo are lumped together and used interchangeably to describe how people are feeling. The more precise you can be when describing your symptoms the easier it will be to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. So, let’s explore this a little deeper.

Vertigo- What is this?

Vertigo is a specific symptom characterized by a definite spinning sensation. Some people may feel like the environment around them is spinning, while others may feel like they are spinning in their environment. Vertigo arises from dysfunction of the vestibular system and can either be a peripheral disorder (outside the brain) or a central disorder (within the brain).

Peripheral vestibular dysfunction results from imbalances in the inner ear. The inner ear contains little crystals that act as gravity sensors and tell your brain how your head is moving in space. Dislodgement of these tiny crystals can trigger a spinning sensation when the head is turned or moved in a particular direction. This is the most common cause of vertigo and is called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). Other causes of peripheral vertigo include Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis, vestibular neuritis, and perilymph fistula, all of which affect structures in the inner ear.

Central disorders causing vertigo result from a disruption of the vestibular connections inside the brain and spinal cord. These can be more serious conditions and must be diagnosed and monitored appropriately. This can include strokes, traumatic brain injuries (ex: concussion), tumours, or infections.

Dizziness- How is this different?

Compared to vertigo, dizziness is a non-specific feeling of unsteadiness. This may include feelings of faintness or light headedness and may or may not be induced by specific body postures or head movements. Other causes of dizziness can include:

· Muscular dysfunction, including whiplash injuries

· Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction

· Cardiovascular disorders

· Visual problems

· Dehydration

· Low blood sugar

Understanding your symptoms and triggers can help expedite your treatment, get you back on track faster, and stop your world from spinning!


Dr. Speranza is an upper cervical Chiropractor in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She follows the protocols of the National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) to help people experiencing problems with postural related dizziness regain balance, return to doing the activities that they love, and ultimately take back control of their health.

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