Differentiating Vertigo from Dizziness and Disequilibrium


Vertigo, dizziness, and disequilibrium are three terms often used interchangeably but have distinct differences. The confusion is understandable since all three are symptoms of vestibular balance disorders. However, because people use them to refer to a wide range of sensations, it poses a diagnostic challenge for doctors. How does vertigo differ from dizziness and disequilibrium?      

Descriptions of Dizziness, Disequilibrium, and Vertigo

Vertigo, dizziness, and disequilibrium are pressing issues for many people, and patients should not take them lightly. They are often indications of an inner ear disorder or a central nervous system problem.

As many as 26 million Americans needed a visit in an emergency room for vertigo or dizziness over the past decade, a study found. If you belong to the population who often feel “dizzy,” it helps to be able to accurately tell the doctor about what you are experiencing.

Here’s how dizziness, disequilibrium, and vertigo differ from one another: 


Dizziness is a blanket term that pertains to feeling lightheaded. Most people explain it as feeling faint. There are many possible causes of dizziness, such as anxiety, dehydration, medication side-effects, motion sickness, etc. 


Disequilibrium is the feeling of unsteadiness on your feet, or like you’re about to fall. It is more of a gait issue. Patients describe it as being unstable or off-balance. 


Vertigo is the false sensation of movement even when there is no motion. Patients who have vertigo often describe a feeling of spinning, although it may also involve a swaying or tilting feeling. It may come with other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.      

How Vertigo Develops

Vertigo originates from the brain’s confusion or misperception of movements of the body. To fully understand how this happens, we’re going to explain how the body keeps its balance.

The brain gathers information about your body’s position and your environment from these body organs:

  1. The eyes
  2. The inner ear (vestibular system)
  3. Sensors in the trunk, limbs, and spine which are involved in proprioception

The brainstem, which is near the base of the skill, processes all the information from these organs and sends the proper signals to the brain. After that, the translated signals keep your vision stable and dictate the coordinated movements of the muscles to retain your posture and balance.

You have a healthy balance system if all these organs work with proper coordination. Your brainstem should be able to receive signals and send back appropriate responses required for balance.

However, if one of these organs does not work as it should, it may result in vertigo. One common reason for vertigo is when impairment of the vestibular system occurs due to underlying medical conditions.   

Vertigo Risk Factors

Some of these factors may increase your risk of developing vertigo:

  • Aging
  • Genetics
  • Viral infection
  • Environmental factors
  • History of head injury

Conditions That Bring Vertigo

Vertigo is not an official diagnosis, but a symptom of an underlying condition. When you complain of vertigo, it can stem from disorders that affect your vestibular system or central nervous system, including the following:

  • BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo)
  • Vestibular migraine
  • Labyrinthitis
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Vestibular neuritis
  • Mal de debarquement syndrome

The common denominator among these conditions is that they interrupt the normal vestibular function and distort the relaying of balance signals in the brain. As a result, vertigo attacks of varying frequency and severity occur.     

Vertigo Care Options

Patients should consider the cause of their vertigo when choosing the right relief option. Doctors may suggest one or a combination of the following:


Vestibular rehabilitation therapy benefits many vertigo patients as it helps the body become more adaptable to motion. If you have BPPV, head positioning maneuvers can bring back the dislodged calcium crystal to the correct spot in the inner ear. As a result, it resolves vertigo. 


Doctors may advise medications to vertigo patients to manage their symptoms. Since Meniere’s disease is due to fluid buildup in the ear, patients may have to take a diuretic (water pill) to get rid of the ear’s extra fluid. 

Some patients also get relief from nausea and dizziness when they take antihistamines or antiemetics. In some cases, antibiotics, anti-anxiety, and anticonvulsant medications also help.

Injections and Surgeries

When all the natural options are unsuccessful in reducing vertigo, that’s the time doctors suggest steroid injections into the inner ear to disable the vestibular system or surgery to remove a part of the inner ear.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic to Relieve Vertigo

An often-overlooked factor in the development of vertigo is the brainstem, which receives, processes, and transmits balance signals to the brain. Certainly, it is no coincidence that having a history of head injury is one of the leading risk factors of vertigo.

Head or neck injuries can result in a misalignment of the topmost bones in the upper cervical spine, which protect the brainstem. When the atlas (C1) or axis (C2) misalign, it can damage the brainstem and disrupt its normal function, leading to vertigo. 

Upper cervical chiropractic is a branch of chiropractic that offers examination and correction of misalignments that affect the brainstem. Moreover, it involves gentle adjustments to the C1 or C2 vertebrae. Therefore, it’s all that is necessary to attain long-lasting, natural care for vertigo.

Schedule a consultation with an upper cervical doctor in your city to ease your vertigo symptoms.




Find An Upper Cervical Doctor in Your Areato schedule a consultation today.


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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.