Dizziness vs Vertigo: What is the Difference?

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According to statistics from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, dizziness and vertigo affect 15% to 20% of adults each year. Dizziness and vertigo are terms that are often used either together or interchangeably. But, is there a difference in dizziness vs vertigo? 


Dizziness is used to describe certain sensations relating to motion and balance. Dizziness is a broad and inexact term because it might have different meanings for different people. It can also be difficult to put certain sensations into words and dizziness is an easy umbrella term to use for multiple feelings. Types of dizziness include light-headedness, faintness, or unsteadiness. Vertigo can also be called a type of dizziness even though it is a more specific sensation, described below.

All types of dizziness, including vertigo, can be incapacitating and interfere with daily life and make everyday activities either impossible or dangerous.


One of the ways that you can tell the difference between dizziness vs vertigo is noting that vertigo means something more specific. Vertigo is the false sensation of movement. Some describe it as feeling as if you are spinning around while the world around you. On the other hand, it may feel as if you are standing still and the world is spinning around you. Many people will describe the sensations of vertigo as dizziness because it does fall under that umbrella of sensations. However, it is the only type of dizziness that causes the spinning or whirling sensation.

Vertigo is often accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, or trouble walking. Another possible symptom experienced during an episode of vertigo is nystagmus, which the American Optometric Association describes as a condition in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements. Vertigo and related symptoms are disabling and interrupt regular life.


The causes of dizziness vs vertigo vary, but underlying conditions are rarely life-threatening.

  • Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): The most common cause of vertigo is BPPV, which is triggered by a rapid change in head position or movement. Quick movements that trigger episodes of vertigo include sitting up, turning around, or turning over in bed. 
  • Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s disease is a condition in which fluid builds up in the inner ear. Individuals with Meniere’s disease experience sudden episodes of vertigo that may last several hours. Other symptoms of Meniere’s disease include ringing in the ear, fluctuating hearing loss, or feeling like the ear is plugged.
  • Vestibular Neuritis: Vestibular neuritis occurs when a viral infection (flu, measles, chickenpox, shingles, mumps, rubella, mono)  spreads to the vestibular nerve in the inner ear. When the nerve is inflamed, it causes vertigo as well as nausea, vomiting, balance issues, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Labyrinthitis: Labyrinthitis is also the result of an infection in the inner ear, but it affects the cochlear nerve as well as the vestibular nerve. The cochlear nerve is responsible for communicating with the brain about hearing, so in addition to the symptoms of vestibular neuritis, labyrinthitis causes difficulty hearing and ringing in the ears.
  • Migraine: Vertigo is sometimes a symptom of migraine headaches. Vertigo episodes associated with migraines may last minutes or even hours. Vertigo may be accompanied by a headache and light and noise sensitivity. Sometimes migraine-related vertigo occurs without a headache.
  • Other Causes of Dizziness: Dizziness may be caused by other factors unrelated to a chronic condition or infection. These causes include:
    • A drop in blood pressure when standing or sitting up too quickly
    • Overheating
    • Dehydration
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Medication side effects
    • Low iron levels
    • Low blood sugar

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you are experiencing episodes of dizziness or vertigo, your doctor will get more information about your symptoms and give you a physical exam in which your balance and other functions are checked. They may perform a few different tests to find the root cause and determine if the sensations you have qualify as dizziness vs vertigo.

One test used to diagnose the cause of balance disorders is called a videonystagmography (VNG) balance test. VNG tests the inner ear and motor function to find the cause of dizziness or vertigo.

Sometimes vertigo resolves itself without treatment. However, treatments are available to manage symptoms and/or treat underlying conditions. Treatments include:

  • Diuretics
  • Dizziness medication
  • Nausea medication
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Medication to prevent migraine
  • Balance therapy
  • Head position maneuver therapy

At Regional Neurological Associates, we know how disabling dizziness and vertigo can be. We are pleased to offer VNG at our office to help with diagnosing vertigo and dizziness. Our physicians are experienced in the evaluation and management of conditions causing dizziness or vertigo. Call us at (718) 515-4347 to schedule an appointment today.