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Vertigo, also called balance disorder, is the feeling of movement when no movement is occurring. This can be caused by a problem of the inner ear's balance mechanisms or by a problem in the brain. Although it usually is harmless, vertigo can be a sign of a serious condition if it is accompanied by difficulty in speaking or walking, severe headaches or double vision. Even when no other symptoms are present, it is recommended for anyone who is experiencing symptoms of this condition to consult a doctor. The same is true if the episodes worsen over time or if new symptoms appear.
The most common causes of this condition are inner ear problems. They can result in benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which is characterized by sudden and severe episodes but is nonetheless not serious. Inflammation or infection of the inner ear also can lead to hearing loss if it is not treated immediately.
Certain serious medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis and head or neck trauma, also can cause vertigo. Another possible cause is a cerebellar hemorrhage that decrease the flow of blood to the brain. This often also causes more serious symptoms, such as difficulty walking and vision impairments. Other potential causes include severe migraines and Meniere disease, which often also causes ringing in the ears.
To diagnose vertigo, a physician might perform a series of tests. The most common of these diagnostic tests are a hearing examination, an electronystagmography or test of the vestibular system and computed axial tomography (CAT) scans of the brain. Some clinics have the ability to use a posturography, a special swaying platform on which the patient tries to maintain equilibrium. Special machines record the responses of the body and then compare those responses to those of an individuals who are not suffering from balance problems.
Individual treatment for vertigo varies depending on the cause and the severity of the episodes. If the cause is a bacterial infection of the middle ear, it can be treated with antibiotics. In more serious cases, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist might recommend surgery. Medications to treat the condition can be taken by mouth, intravenously or via a skin patch.
The most common treatment for vertigo is the use of several physical maneuvers, known as vestibular rehabilitation exercises, in which the patient lies down on a table on one side until the condition subsides. The patient then switches to the other side quickly. The movement is repeated until no vertigo is felt.