7 Things You Should Know About Vestibular Migraines

Why You Get Dizzy

Migraines aren’t all in your head. They’re a whole-body physiological response to triggers such as stress, poor diet, sleep deprivation, vasodilation, hormone imbalances, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, or underlying disease.  Sometimes, it’s even in your genes and nervous system.  In this article, I’ll share seven things you should know about vestibular migraines, also referred to as migraine-associated vertigo.

1)  It’s a Problem with The Nervous System

Vestibular migraines involve the inner ear, blood vessels, and nerves. They’re characterized by repeated dizziness (vertigo). Unlike other forms of migraines, head pain isn’t the most common symptom, but the dizziness, imbalance, and disorientation are debilitating.

2) Attack Duration Varies Widely

Some people experience just a few seconds of extreme vertigo, while others feel the effects for several days. The average is a few minutes to a few hours. The significant gaps in duration make this condition challenging to track and predict.

3) There’s a Large Range of Symptoms

Aside from dizziness, other major symptoms associated with vestibular migraines include nausea, vomiting, flushing, sweating, diarrhea, visual changes, confusion, hypersensitivity, and extreme fatigue. A lot of these will look familiar to those in classical migraines with aura.

4) It’s Probably a Genetic Disorder

Vestibular migraines are often inherited, which is similar to genetic findings in classical migraines. Migraine-associated vertigo has genetic (a variation in the genes themselves), epigenetic (something that happens around the genes), and environmental factors that contribute to the symptoms and occurrences. Some studies suggest that the symptoms are experienced by 10% of migraineurs who have it in their family history.

5)  Not Surprisingly, Woman Are at Greater Risk

Women are three times more likely to experience vestibular migraines than men. As with all other migraines, there’s very little in the way of science that explains this phenomenon. We’re left to use data from other studies to interpret this to be due to genetic, hormonal, and chemical differences.

6)  Children Get Them Too

Vestibular migraines are the most common cause of dizziness in children. Their triggers are the same as adults and usually include some combination of dehydration, poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, allergens, and other environmental toxins. Often, these children are treated by an ENT specialist rather someone specializing in migraine.

7)  There Are Three Kinds of Vertigo

Vestibular migraines are characterized by extreme dizziness, but that problem can manifest in three different ways.  Spontaneous vertigo is the most common (83% of patients) and comes with the typical spinning sensation or other feelings of false movement. Triggered vertigo often happens as a result of moving your head too fast or if you’ve been exposed to something that affected your vision, like flashing or strobe lights. Finally, positional vertigo is much less common and is caused strictly by moving your head. 

We’re always learning new things about migraines. Vestibular migraines are a unique form of the condition because they aren’t often accompanied by the debilitating pain in which many of us are accustomed. Knowledge gives you the power to take control of your health, and in a time when we all must do better at self-care, this is the first step to understanding what comes next. Tracking migraines and symptoms are always a great place to start, but if you’re struggling to find your next step, reach out to me.


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Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia