Dizziness and vertigo are both symptoms of many physical health disorders, most frequently vestibular disorders.
The words dizziness and vertigo are given many definitions by doctors and patients alike, however they are not the same thing, and do have specific definitions. So, what is the difference between dizziness and vertigo?
The difference between dizziness and vertigo is in their definitions; they have distinct differences and it’s important that we distinguish one from the other. The distinctions are important to help your clinicians understand how you are feeling, and to make sure you have an accurate diagnosis.
Dizziness is an umbrella term. Dizziness can subjectively mean anything from lightheadedness and unsteadiness, to imbalance or vertigo. Dizziness needs to be broken down into what you are feeling more specifically, you should use your own terms to define how you are feeling. Many of my patients are at first nervous to describe how they’re feeling as the words they’re using dont sound ‘medical enough’. However, those non-medical terms are exactly what I am looking for in a description of your symptoms. Your Vestibular Therapist and other providers want to know if you feel like you have a hot air balloon in your head, if you’re floating, or bouncing.
On the other hand, vertigo is the incorrect perception that you, or the room around you, are moving. This can feel like spinning, bobbing, swaying, or whirling. Vertigo is commonly associated with a few different diagnoses, just like dizziness is associated with other diagnoses. Vertigo, although it is under the dizzy-umbrella, is not most of the symptoms of dizziness. Vertigo is NOT: lightheadedness, fogginess, imbalance, or feeling like you have a hot air balloon in your head. Vertigo is the false perception of movement.
Vertigo is a symptom, not a diagnosis. If you leave the doctor, emergency department, or other provider’s office and have received the diagnosis “you have vertigo,” do your best to ask more questions. You cannot just have vertigo, you must have another condition that is causing the vertigo. The most common diagnoses that cause vertigo are: Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, Vestibular Neuritis, Vestibular Migraine, and Meniere’s Disease. There are a few other causes of Vertigo, such as stroke, head injury, and tumors. These are less frequent, but should be ruled out for safety reasons.
Dizziness and vertigo are typically caused by vestibular dysfunction, and it’s important for your doctor and healthcare team to recognize this and treat you appropriately. Seeking a vestibular diagnosis further than “you have vertigo” with an unknown cause, it so important to getting proper diagnosis and treatment for your vestibular disorder.