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Understanding the Causes of Vertigo


Vertigo is the sense of moving when you’re not really moving. It involves sensations of falling, tilting, or spinning that make it hard to stand or walk. Dizziness is different from vertigo and can simply mean wooziness or lightheadedness. Vertigo and dizziness are among the most common reasons for an emergency room visit. The good news is that most cases of vertigo are due to relatively harmless conditions.

Dignity Health doctors and nurses are equipped to triage all types of emergencies, including dizziness and vertigo, and are trained to provide a full range of care. If you need to go to the ER for vertigo in the Bay Area, select your estimated arrival time to one of our emergency rooms using our Online Waiting Room.

What Causes Vertigo?

The most common causes of vertigo are:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a condition where crystals in the inner ear become dislodged and settle in places where they should not be
  • Brain tumors
  • Meniere’s disease, a buildup of fluid in the inner ear
  • Migraines
  • Panic disorders
  • Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs)

Your Dignity Health doctor may be able to diagnose the cause of your vertigo using simple examinations. This may include observations of eye movements, head maneuvers, neurological exams, and hearing tests.

Diagnosing Vertigo Symptoms at Dignity Health

To make a diagnosis, your doctor needs to know about any symptoms that occur along with vertigo, when it started, and how long it lasts. Be sure to mention anything that triggers vertigo, such as head movements or changing positions. Note any changes to medications, such as changes in dosing.

Other symptoms that may occur along with vertigo include: 

  • Fullness or pain in the ears
  • Headache
  • Hearing loss that may come and go
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems with balance or unsteadiness 
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) 
  • Sensitivity to light

Once your doctor knows why you have vertigo, we’ll quickly work to provide a personalized treatment and relieve your symptoms.

Dignity Health provides compassionate care for vertigo in the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.