The Differences Between Vertigo and Dizziness

The differences between vertigo and dizziness can be very subtle, so both symptoms are often confused. Fortunately, doctors are able to make clear differences.
The Differences Between Vertigo and Dizziness

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Vertigo and dizziness are two different things and represent one of the most frequent reasons for medical consultation. They can occur at any age, being more common as the person ages.

In general, both terms are used synonymously. However, each one has its own characteristics.

In most cases, describing and recognizing dizziness and vertigo can be a difficult task. Both symptoms can limit daily activities and lead to seeking support or medical intervention. They’re usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting in the most severe cases.

The differences between vertigo and dizziness

Vertigo and dizziness are clinical manifestations that reflect bodily instability and difficulty moving in space. In this regard, the loss of balance present in both conditions is the factor that usually makes telling them apart difficult. However, health professionals recognize the following differences between vertigo and dizziness.

1. Perception of movement

Vertigo is the illusory perception of false movement between the person and the environment around them. In this regard, patients often report that everything spins around and they have difficulty walking. Studies affirm that vertigo can be objective, when the environment moves around the person, and subjective, when the body moves and the environment remains fixed.

Movement in vertigo can be twisting, tilting, or rocking. On the other hand, dizziness is a subjective symptom described as a feeling of light-headedness and loss of balance.

Similarly, some patients may feel like they’re floating or about to pass out. However, dizziness isn’t associated with the sensation of movement of the person or the objects around them.

Dizziness in a woman.
The feeling of instability in dizziness and vertigo forces the person to rest and stop moving.

2. Origin and causes

Body balance and posture maintenance are determined by a complex network of receptors and nerves. In this regard, sight provides information on surrounding objects and their distance, while the inner ear and joint receptors recognize the body’s position in space, movements, and changes in speed.

The information captured by all these receptors is processed in the vestibular nuclei, the cerebellum, and the temporal lobe. In this way, the body responds by coordinating the signals and movements necessary to maintain balance and respond to external changes. For this reason, any alteration in this complex system will cause the sensation of vertigo.

The most common causes of vertigo originate from conditions of the inner ear. However, this symptom can also be caused by alterations in the structure and function of the vestibular nuclei, cerebellum, brain stem, and cerebral cortex. Some of the main causes of vertigo are as follows:

  • Acute labyrinthitis
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Otosclerosis
  • Migraine
  • Cerebrovascular disease

On the other hand, dizziness is a very common symptom that’s usually associated with vascular, metabolic, infectious, and psychiatric conditions. In addition, it’s one of the most frequent adverse effects due to the consumption of medications without medical supervision.

Among the main causes of dizziness are the following:

3. Accompanying symptoms

In most cases, vertigo and dizziness present very similar accompanying symptoms. However, some patients may present manifestations that are more representative of each condition and that facilitate diagnostic guidance.

In this regard, people with vertigo may suffer from double vision, palpitations, sweating, difficulty speaking and moving the limbs, as well as loss of consciousness. Some research suggests that more than 17% of patients who consult for vertigo have nystagmus. Also, people with an ear condition may have hearing loss and ringing.

On the other hand, the symptoms that accompany dizziness are very varied. For example, headaches, muscle weakness, tiredness, stumbling, and difficulty concentrating are some of the most common. Similarly, there are patients who report severe nausea and vomiting, as well as confusion and fainting.

Vertigo with headache.
Headaches can be an accompanying sign, as well as an indication of the underlying illness that produces dizziness or vertigo.

Two symptoms that shouldn’t be taken lightly

In general, differentiating between vertigo and dizziness can become quite a challenge. In most cases, both symptoms are classified as harmless dizziness, so they go unnoticed. However, they could be indicative of a severe illness, so they should be evaluated by a health professional.

Doctors recommend going to a consultation as soon as possible in case of persistent vertigo or dizziness associated with fainting, severe vomiting, and hearing loss. Health specialists are the only ones trained to treat this condition and offer the best approach options.

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