What is vertigo?

Vertigo: Overview

Vertigo is the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement. It is often described as a feeling of spinning, whirling, falling, or tilting. Vertigo may make you vomit or feel nauseated. You may have trouble standing or walking and may lose your balance.

Vertigo is often related to an inner ear problem, but it can have other more serious causes. If vertigo continues, you may need more tests to find its cause.


Vertigo is a feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement. You may feel as though you are spinning, whirling, or tilting. You may have trouble walking or standing, and you may lose your balance and fall. Severe vertigo may make you vomit or feel very nauseated.

Vertigo can be caused by problems with your nerves, blood flow, or inner ear.

Vertigo: The Epley Maneuver

Caring for lightheadedness and vertigo

Lightheadedness usually isn't a cause for concern unless it is severe, doesn't go away, or occurs with other symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat or fainting. Lightheadedness can lead to falls and other injuries. Protect yourself from injury if you feel lightheaded. Here are some things you can do.

  • Lie down for a minute or two.

    This will allow more blood to flow to your brain. After lying down, sit up slowly. Stay sitting for 1 to 2 minutes before you slowly stand up.

  • Get some rest.

    It's not unusual to be lightheaded during some viral illnesses, such as a cold or the flu. Resting will help prevent attacks of lightheadedness.

  • Be safe with activities.

    Don't drive a motor vehicle, operate equipment, or climb on a ladder while you are dizzy.

  • Be careful with substances.

    Don't use substances that can affect your circulation. These include caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs.

  • Stay hydrated.

    Dehydration can cause or increase lightheadedness. It can happen when you have an illness that causes diarrhea, vomiting, or a fever.

    • Drink more fluids, especially water.
    • Other fluids are also helpful, such as fruit juice mixed to half-strength with water, rehydration drinks, weak tea with sugar, clear broth, and gelatin dessert.
    • If you have kidney or heart disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Protect yourself if you have vertigo.
    • Don't lie flat on your back. Prop yourself up slightly to relieve the spinning sensation.
    • Move slowly to avoid the risk of falling.

Staying safe when you have vertigo

You can reduce your risk of injury when you have vertigo by following these suggestions.

  • Avoid driving.
  • Avoid working at heights.
  • Wear shoes with low heels and nonslip soles.
  • Keep your shoes tied.
  • Alert family and friends to your condition and how they can help during an attack of vertigo.
  • Know whether medicines you take can affect your sense of balance.
  • Make your home safer.
    • Do not use throw rugs. Try using nonskid mats.
    • Install grab bars near the bathtub and toilet.
    • Use night-lights.
    • Keep floors dry. This will help prevent slipping.
    • Store household items on low shelves. This can help eliminate the need to climb or reach high. If climbing is essential, use a step stool with handrails.
    • Keep driveways, sidewalks, and interior walkways clear of anything that might cause you to trip.

Vertigo: Head Movements That Help

Vertigo: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have sudden dizziness that doesn't get better.
  • You have dizziness along with symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Vertigo occurs with a fever, a headache, or ringing in your ears.
  • You have new or increased nausea and vomiting.
  • Your vertigo gets worse or happens more often.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.