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Vertigo is an unsettling feeling that the world is spinning around you while you’re standing still. Sometimes accompanied by nausea, this sensation can occur as you turn your head or change body positions, such as when you rise from a prone or seated position. While the discomfort may be intense, it usually resolves momentarily as the brain adapts to changes in the inner ear and restores a sense of balance.

What causes vertigo?

There are two main types of vertigo – peripheral and central – and the causes of each can vary. Peripheral vertigo is relatively common and usually brought on by a disturbance in the inner ear. This can be caused by postural hypotension, which is a quick drop in blood pressure. Other possible causes include a buildup of calcium crystals (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), a buildup of fluid (Meniere’s disease) or an infection (acute peripheral vestibulopathy) in the inner ear. On the other hand, central vertigo is rarer and can result from a migraine, stroke, multiple sclerosis or a tumor in the cerebellum, which is the region of the brain that controls balance.

What should you do?

As a general rule of thumb, you should seek medical attention if you experience vertigo that is severe, recurrent or long-lasting. In rare cases, vertigo may be associated with a serious medical condition, so you should call 911 or go directly to the nearest emergency room if your sense of imbalance is accompanied by:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Facial numbness
  • Sudden changes in speech, vision or hearing
  • Walking difficulties
  • Falling
  • Fever
  • A stiff neck
  • A head injury
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

If you experience mild vertigo, there are some steps you can take to increase your comfort as your body naturally restores your sense of balance. It’s best to move slowly, especially when standing up. Because dehydration can cause dizziness, it’s important to drink plenty of water and other fluids. Finally, caffeine and tobacco can restrict blood flow and worsen the symptoms of vertigo, so it’s a good idea to avoid (or reduce your consumption of) products that contain these stimulants.

If you have questions about the relationship between cancer and vertigo, you are welcome to talk with the experts in the Neuro-Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. No referrals are necessary.