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Vertigo: What is it? Why does it happen? What do I do about it?

The term "dizziness" generally refers to an unpleasant disturbance of spatial orientation. Many people use this term for lightheadedness without any sensation of movement. More specifically, “vertigo” is the wrongful perception of movement. Vertigo involves the perceived movement of one’s own body, and/or of the environment. It is commonly described as a “room spinning” or “swaying” sensation, and can be accompanied by strong symptoms of nausea, headache, and difficulty with balance.

There are many different causes for vertigo, some of which can start seemingly out of nowhere, and some causes that can be precipitated by a traumatic incident. The most common types of vertigo are:

  • BPPV (Benign paroxysmal positioning vertigo)

  • phobic postural vertigo

  • central vestibular vertigo

  • vestibular migraine

These are just a few of the conditions that a vestibular-trained healthcare provider will assess for. This process of assessment is crucial, as the causes for vertigo are different and so are the treatments.

The lifetime prevalence of vertigo in the general population is approximately 20% to 30%, making it a very common concern. The cause of vertigo related symptoms can be complex, variable, and require thorough diagnostic testing. Unfortunately, as a result of this, patients experiencing ongoing symptoms can often fall through the cracks between medical specialty referrals.

If you have been experiencing persistent vertigo, make sure to visit a primary care practitioner (Medical Doctor, Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist) with additional training in vestibular management. These healthcare practitioners have specialized tools to assess and treat the cause of your vertigo. Depending on the condition, these practitioners also have the wherewithal to refer you on to someone who can help. Treatment often includes vestibular rehabilitation (from a Physiotherapist or Occupational Therapist) and/or medication (as prescribed by a Medical Doctor).

Reach offers specialized vestibular physiotherapy in Edmonton. If you would like to learn more or are unsure if this is what you need, just contact us and we will be happy to hear about your story and guide you towards the best path for your needs.



  1. Strupp, M., & Brandt, T. (2008). Diagnosis and treatment of vertigo and dizziness. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 105(10), 173–180.

  2. Neuhauser HK. Epidemiology of vertigo. Curr Opin Neurol. 2007;20:40–46.


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