Does Stress Cause Vertigo?

Folks often ask… “Does stress cause vertigo?”

The short answer to your question is NO!

BUT…stress can make vertigo worse, and let’s dive into why.

First things first.

Stressed out gal on her bed dealing with chronic vertigo

Photo Credit: Nathan Congleton via flickr

 What Is Vertigo?

According to Merriam-Webster medical dictionary: vertigo is a sensation of motion that is associated with various disorders (as of the inner ear) and in which the individual or the individual’s surroundings seem to whirl dizzily.

Real life definition from an actual sufferer: You feel like you’re a single piece of snow being violently shaken alongside other snowflakes in a snow globe!

Vertigo Causes:

It’s important to understand that vertigo is a symptom, and it has a source. Here are a few possible sources:

  • Disease of the middle and inner ear
  • Central nervous system disorders
  • Migraine
  • Stroke
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Blood Pressure disorders
  • Medications

Medicinenet.com suggests stress is a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.

Hence, stress can intensify the medical disorders listed above.

OK! Stress Isn’t The Direct Cause…Now What?

Know your medical terminology.

Are you experiencing vertigo or dizziness?

Vertigo: you or your surroundings appear to be spinning or moving.

Dizziness: feeling faint, lightheaded or unsteady.

Correct terminology will help your MD narrow down the cause.

If you’re experiencing persistent vertigo that’s affecting your quality of life, it’s time to seek medical care.

Don’t suffer unnecessarily. Vertigo can be debilitating, and there are some effective treatments. Also, medication can be given for the nausea that accompanies the vertigo.

Heads up: Vertigo and dizziness are common symptoms often misunderstood. They are subjective symptoms not seen and difficult for many to fully understand or believe.

If you find your primary MD not being receptive or brushing you off PLEASE get a second opinion. A solid primary care doctor will evaluate and if necessary point you in the direction of a vestibular (balance) specialists.

If you need additional support check out the VEDA (Vestibular Disorders Association).

VEDA has a great Vestibular (balance) specialists directory.

You are not alone! You can find others going through your similar experience on the Facebook page: The Spin Sisters Podcast.

Much love,
Marissa

PS: Don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments below. I will do my best to help!

8 comments

  1. I love reading all your posts but I have to disagree with you on this one. I ( and my ENT consultant) firmly believe stress DOES cause vertigo. I don’t want to go into my story but basically after suffering a traumatic event 29 years I started suffering with vertigo. My consultant believes that when we get stressed and produce too much adrenalin and other chemicals then this can alter the delicate balance system in our inner ear. I had to keep a ‘dizzy’ diary for a long time and through this I learnt that stress was uppermost in the triggers behind my vertigo. Reducing stress, relaxation techniques will almost certainly lessen the risk of a future vertigo attack. Only my opinion. Lots of love to you Marissa xx

    • Susanna! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and opinion. That’s how we all grow! I believe we’re still on the same page.

      Hear me out…

      Let’s say someone was diagnosed with PTSD. There are debates whether PTSD would fall into a psychological or neurological disorder. Regardless, PTSD would be THE SOURCE that triggers a panic attack, which can lead to vertigo or dizziness. So, stress itself is not the cause of the vertigo. We know that a person can be stressed and not have a panic attack. The stress of a panic attack, which is the byproduct of the PTSD, exacerbates the symptom of vertigo.

      Take away: I would feel confident stating that PTSD is the source, byproduct is an anxiety attack, which produces the symptoms of dizziness and vertigo.

      Much love and hugs and hugs,
      Marissa

      PS: I APPRECIATE YOU!

  2. Hi Marissa. I totally understand your point. Yes, I think there is a very fine line between the physical and psychological issues. PTSD does trigger vertigo attacks. I think the chemical release of stress hormones can trigger many symptoms and it’s just difficult to ascertain the original trigger. For me the vertigo connection with my traumatic event is so new. I have been suffering with vertigo for 28 years but only recently was the connection made. It was a shock but also a relief. Now begins the slow recovery from the traumatic event which is hoped will lessen the vertigo. My ENT doctor ( I’m in the UK) has been so understanding and has worked hard trying to help me.
    I hope you’re keeping well.
    I always enjoy your posts.
    Susanna x

  3. Interesting discussion!

    When feeling threatened, it is animal nature to scan for source of threat. The ears hear before the eyes see.

    For instance, if you are driving, you might hear a fire engine siren long before you see what direction it is traveling. For a person with vertigo or nystagmus, this quick turning of the head to orient to location and direction of sound can throw the vestibular system off (the startle reflex meeting the vestibular-occular reflex).

    You might want to consider body work that can help you identify muscle bracing patterns. For instance, overly tight SCM muscles, used to keep the head steady. We use our SCMs to turn our heads – up, down, side to side. When they don’t function well, dizziness can be a symptom.

    “This article presents a case study of a patient diagnosed with dysfunction of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle, a condition which can result in head and face pain, nausea, dizziness, coryza, and lacrimation. In this particular case, the SCM muscle had developed tightness and weakness with presence of multiple trigger points within both heads. A combination of passive and active treatments were utilized to successfully treat this condition.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1769463/

    People with injuries might also go into an auto-bracing mode to protect themselves from more injury. This can also lead to problems. “Research has shown that people who have had an ankle injury are more likely to fall again on the same ankle but that balance exercises can reduce this risk. Improving the brains ability to sense the position of the foot reduces the risk of further falls.” http://www.improvingmovement.com/wp-home/what-is-sensory-motor-amnesia/

    People with PTSD usually have a startle reflex (ask any war vet with PTSD – formerly known as shell shock).

    – An article from the Huffington Post with some interesting points. For what it is worth

    “Although many of you might not identify with the extremity of the startle reflex, you need to become aware that it occurs with very subtle gradations. One person might maintain only a small amount of phase 1 or a medium amount of phase 2. It’s even possible to produce a small part of phase 1 on the right side of the body and phase 2 on the left (which can lead to subclinical balance disorders and a strong feeling of lurching or teetering when walking). It’s important to realize how pervasive and subtle these patterns can be. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-wildman-gcft-phd/chronic-pain_b_3661734.html

    Hope this helps. Best of luck with recovery.

    • LC! Fantastic insights. “You might want to consider body work that can help you identify muscle bracing patterns.” It’s amazing how strong my shoulders, arms, legs and feet have become over the years from bracing to stay balanced. Body work is excellent advice I will look into. Thanks again for this fabulous contribution.

      Much love,
      Marissa

  4. I learned something – that sensory data is the starting place for alertness to potential danger.

    “Anixiety is fear of something that cannot be located in space and time.”
    Your Brain on Stress and Anxiety

    Dr John Kenworthy

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