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Vertigo

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Vertigo is a type of dizziness where you feel that the room is spinning or you are unbalanced.
  • Vertigo can be distressing but it is not usually caused by a serious medical problem.
  • The most common cause of vertigo is benign positional paroxysmal vertigo (BPPV). This is caused by crystals in the balance centre of your inner ear moving out of place.
  • Vertigo often gets better without treatment.
  • Your doctor may recommend exercises or medicines that can help.

What is vertigo?

Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness. If you have vertigo, you may feel like the world is spinning around you. You feel unbalanced or that you are swaying or moving when you are still.

It might get worse when you change position quickly, such as turning over in bed or moving your head to look up.

Vertigo can be distressing or worrying. It doesn’t always mean that you have a serious medical problem.

What symptoms are related to vertigo?

If you have vertigo, it may feel like:

  • you are spinning
  • you are falling
  • the world is spinning around you

This is different to dizziness. Dizziness is a more general feeling of being lightheaded, giddy, or unsteady.

Feelings of vertigo usually come and go in ‘attacks’. They can last from a few seconds to hours.

You may also have these other symptoms:

If vertigo is very bad it may prevent you from getting on with your life. It may put you off exercising or make it unsafe for you to drive.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes vertigo?

You might have vertigo because of an inner ear problem. The most common cause is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).

We all have small crystals in our inner ear that help control balance. BPPV occurs when these crystals move out of place. This affects the messages sent from your inner ear to your brain.

Other inner ear problems that may cause vertigo are:

Vertigo is a side effect of some medicines.

Sometimes, vertigo may be caused by serious problems. This is very rare. It might be due to:

How is vertigo diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms. It’s helpful if you can tell your doctor about any specific movements or activities that bring on your vertigo.

They will also ask about any other medical problems you have, and any medicines you take.

Your doctor will do a physical examination. They might check your hearing and balance.

Your doctor may recommend blood tests or imaging scans to rule out a serious cause of your symptoms.

How is vertigo treated?

Your treatment will depend on the cause of your symptoms.

Sometimes vertigo will get better on its own. You can try these self-care tips.

  • Lie down in a dark, quiet room during an attack.
  • Sit down as soon as you feel dizzy.
  • Try to avoid triggers — such as certain head positions or getting out of bed too quickly.

Your doctor might suggest taking a medicine for a short time. This might help manage nausea and vomiting.

If your vertigo is due to BPPV, you might have a treatment called canalith repositioning (also known as Epley manoeuvre). This involves your doctor or a specialist physiotherapist using special movements to shift the crystals in your inner ear back into the correct position.

You might also see a specialist physiotherapist for exercises to treat your vertigo.

In rare cases, surgery may be needed.

Resources and Support

Read more about vertigo at and dizziness at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.

Visit the Brain Foundation to learn about Meniere’s Disease.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2022


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