Dizziness vs. Vertigo

woman experiencing vertigo

Have you ever felt like you were spinning or the room was moving around you? If so, you may have wondered if what you were experiencing was vertigo or dizziness.

Are Dizziness and Vertigo the Same Thing?

Although vertigo is undoubtedly a specific type of dizziness, the two words are not interchangeable. Understanding the difference between dizziness and vertigo will help you appreciate the treatments and examinations each requires.

Dizziness Definition

When someone experiences or complains of dizziness, it may or may not be vertigo. Dizziness is the feeling of light-headedness, unsteadiness, fatigue or uneasiness.

Symptoms that may accompany dizziness are feeling faint or lightheaded, unsteadiness or a loss of balance, or a feeling of floating or heavy-headedness. Dizziness can occur when you:

  • Get up fast from a prone position: When you get up too quickly, the blood in your body may be unable to reach your brain readily because your heart cannot pump it fast enough. This may cause postural or orthostatic hypotension — a condition in which your brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen and needs to equilibrate.
  • Stand for long periods: Attending a wedding or sporting event can cause you to stand for long periods. When this happens, blood can pool in the legs, depriving the brain of proper levels of nutrients and oxygen.

Vertigo Definition

Vertigo refers to a whirling sensation or loss of balance. People with vertigo typically describe the situation as feeling like they are swaying, unbalanced, spinning, tilting or being pulled in one direction.

Symptoms that may accompany vertigo are vomiting or feeling nauseated, sweating, having a headache, hearing loss, ringing in the ears or abnormal eye movements. Examples of vertigo include:

  • Tilting your head back to have your hair washed at a salon, then moving your head back to a natural position and feeling like the room is spinning
  • Performing yoga with your head down, changing your orientation and having the world around you keep going
  • Rolling over in bed and feeling like everything continues to move despite laying still

What Can Cause Dizziness or Vertigo?

Understanding the causes of dizziness and vertigo can help you determine the difference between the two conditions and which one you’re prone to.

Causes of Dizziness

Several factors can lead to dizziness, including medication effects, motion sickness and inner ear disturbances. The condition can also be caused by an underlying health condition such as an infection, injury or poor circulation.

Other causes of dizziness include:

  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Neck dysfunction
  • Concussions
  • Neurological conditions
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low iron levels
  • Dehydration and overheating
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

Causes of Vertigo

Vertigo is often triggered by a change in your head’s position and is caused by an inner ear problem. In rare cases, vertigo can be caused by migraine headaches, certain medications that cause ear damage, neck or head injuries, or brain problems.

Some of the most common causes of vertigo include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV
  • Labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis
  • Meniere’s disease

Treat Vertigo With Physical Therapy

If you find that your vertigo is interfering with your daily life or worsens when you’re stressed, reach out to our team to our physical therapy department.

To learn more about how OrthoBethesda can help alleviate your dizziness and vertigo symptoms, or to initiate treatment, schedule an appointment online today at our Bethesda, MD or Arlington, VA offices.