Medical History for Vertigo

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Medical History for Vertigo

Your doctor may be able to determine the cause of your vertigo based on your symptoms and your medical history. He or she may ask questions to clarify points and explore symptoms or events that you may have forgotten to mention or may have thought were not important.

The doctor first will determine exactly what symptoms you are having. People tend to use the word "dizzy" to describe any of the following:

  • Vertigo (the feeling of spinning movement even when standing still)
  • Unsteadiness (a sense of imbalance or staggering when standing or walking)
  • Lightheadedness or feeling as though you are about to faint (presyncope)
  • Dizziness (feeling woozy or unsteady) related to breathing too rapidly (hyperventilation), anxiety, or depression

To distinguish between these, the doctor may ask:

  • Does the room feel as though it's spinning around you?
  • Does your vision become blurred or dim during an attack?
  • Do you feel as though you are seasick?
  • Do you get dizzy when you stand up?
  • Do you feel as though you are going to pass out?
  • Does the dizziness feel more as though it's in your feet or your head?
  • Do you get dizzy when you turn your head?
  • Are your thoughts clear?
  • Are you worried or afraid?

If it is clear you have vertigo, the doctor will want to know whether you have any hearing problems, such as hearing loss or ringing in your ears (tinnitus), that occur along with the vertigo.

Next, the doctor will want to know about the pattern of your vertigo. He or she may ask:

  • Is the vertigo continuous or does it come and go? If it comes and goes, how long does it usually last?
  • Is the vertigo triggered by changing your position, such as rolling over in bed or bending over? How quickly after changing your position does the vertigo begin?
  • Does the vertigo occur only when your head is in a certain position, such as tipped back to look up?
  • Does the vertigo ever occur when you are completely still and motionless?

Your doctor also will want to know how bad the vertigo is:

  • Is it severe, to the point of causing nausea and vomiting?
  • Is it mild?

Your doctor also will want to decide whether the vertigo could be caused by a problem affecting the brain or nerves. He or she may ask:

  • Does the vertigo occur when you are not moving?
  • Have you ever had a major head injury?
  • Do you have double vision or other vision problems?
  • Do you have difficulty speaking?
  • Do you have difficulty moving any part of your body?
  • Do you have any weakness or numbness in any part of your body?
  • Did you first experience vertigo suddenly, or did it come on slowly?
  • Have there been any changes in the frequency or intensity of headaches?

In addition to specific questions relating to your reason for seeing the doctor, taking a history includes determining your general health. The doctor may ask:

  • Is this the first time you have seen a doctor about this problem?
  • Are you taking any prescription or nonprescription medicines?
  • Have you had any recent cold or flu symptoms?
  • Do you have any family history of vertigo problems?

The answers you give will usually provide the doctor with enough information to determine the cause of your vertigo. If the cause is not clear, the doctor may want to do some tests.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last RevisedDecember 19, 2012

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