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Vestibular Migraines - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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It is estimated that some 28 million people have been diagnosed as suffering from migraines in the United States alone and one of the different types of migraines included in that statistic is vestibular migraine. Vestibular migraines, although similar to many other forms of migraines, have a few distinct features. The word “vestibular” in vestibular migraines is derived from another word “vestibule” which refers to a small space, cavity or enclosure at the beginning of a canal or passageway. In this case, vestibule is that part of our inner ear which helps us keep our balance so that we do not sway or fall. As there is a symptom of dizziness and/or vertigo with vestibular migraine, this is how it came to get its name.

Vestibular migraine symptoms

There is an overlap between dizziness and the migraine itself. Although dizziness can be light-headedness, wooziness or a feeling that you are going to faint, in the case of vestibular migraine the dizziness is a form of vertigo. The room or environment could feel like it was spinning or you could experience motion sickness. This vertigo could continue for anything from a few minutes to up to an hour. In rare cases, it could last for several days or weeks. A migraine headache could start at the same time or before hand or may follow after the vertigo.

There are other symptoms or migraines which can appear with vestibular migraines and these are:

  • Ear pressure or pain
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
  • Panic or anxiety attacks
  • Phobic behavior
  • Muffled hearing
  • Extreme sensitivity to motion
  • Unsteadiness
  • Nausea


These symptoms are not always experienced in conjunction with pain.

Vestibular migraine solutions

If you feel you might be suffering from vestibular migraine and you go to your doctor for a diagnosis, he will need to rule out various other conditions that can cause similar symptoms to vestibular migraine. These other conditions include:

  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
  • Ménierès Disease (also called hydrops)
  • Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs) or small strokes
  • Fluid leaks in the inner ear
  • Vestibular nerve irritation


Once your doctor has established that it is indeed vestibular migraine, he can prescribe similar migraine medication as that used for other types of migraines. However, the following variations may need to be made:

  • For attacks of dizziness that include nausea, medication such as meclizine is used to provide relief from the symptoms.
  • Where such attacks are frequent or cause the sufferer to become incapacitated, medications are used such as beta-blocking agents or calcium channel blockers.


Like all migraines, triggers play an important part and it will be helpful if you can try to ascertain what trigger is causing your attack – eliminating the triggers can be an effective form of vestibular migraine treatment.

Such triggers could be:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Stress and/or an altered sleep pattern
  • Your diet


Unfortunately, women are more likely than men to suffer from all forms of migraines and the symptoms are often worse around menstruation. If migraines run in your family, you need to be aware that they are often passed down from one generation to the next.

Go to our Migraine and Headache page