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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Vertigo is the sensation that either your body or your environment is moving (usually spinning). Vertigo can be a symptom of many different illnesses and disorders. The most common causes of vertigo are illnesses that affect the inner ear, including:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo — In this condition, a change in head position causes a sudden sensation of spinning. The most likely cause is small crystals that break loose in the canals of the inner ear and touch the sensitive nerve endings inside.

  • Acute labyrinthitis, also called vestibular neuritis — This is an inflammation of the balance apparatus of the inner ear, probably caused by a viral infection.

  • Ménière's disease — This causes repeat episodes of dizziness, usually with ringing in the ear and progressive low-frequency hearing loss. Ménière's disease is caused by a change in the volume of fluid inside the inner ear. Although the reason for this change is unknown, scientists suspect that it may be linked to loud noise, to a viral infection or to biologic factors inside the ear itself.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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