By Jakob van Vlijmen
M Chiro, DC
There are very few complaints as difficult as dizziness. Even though most types of dizziness do not have a sinister cause, they can lead to certain risks. As you can all imagine, being in a car or on the top of a flight of stairs are dangerous places to become dizzy. The following article will discuss the different causes of dizziness, the different ways it can present and when a visit to the chiropractor can be helpful.
Light headed or vertigo?
Dizziness is used to indicate a sense of instability, movement insecurity or light headedness. The term vertigo indicates a sense of spinning or whirling when the patient isn't actually moving. Light headedness is usually caused by low blood pressure, especially when it comes on after getting up too quickly. Low blood sugar however can also be a cause. If you experience these kinds of dizziness on a regular basis it might be a good idea for you to discuss this with your GP.
The 3 systems involved in processing movement information.
To be able to explain the different causes of dizziness we will have to discuss some of the mechanisms responsible for our sense of balance, the ability to register movement and our sense of positioning. These are the 3 different systems we need to discuss:
The Eyes - Among other things we use horizontal and vertical lines within our surroundings to determine our position and register movement.
The Organs of Balance - Situated deep within the ear. These organs are specialised in registering movement, acceleration and the position of the head.
Proprioception - This is information concerning the position of joints, the length of muscles and the force exerted by muscles.
By gathering and analysing the information from these systems numerous of times per second our brains can determine if anything or anyone is moving, what needs to be done to achieve movement and if we are in a balanced position.
Perfect collaboration between the 3 systems is required.
It is important to realise that these 3 systems have to work together in sync to prevent problems occurring. For example, when you turn your head to the left, the balance organs in your left ear is moving backward relatively speaking and the one in the right ear is moving forward. At the same time the position of several neck vertebra change, certain muscles are active in order for you to perform the movement and the eyes are registering the change in your surroundings. As long as all the information that your brain receives aligns with each other things will go smoothly, but if there is a discrepancy in the signals the brain receives it can lead to dizziness.
Different types of dizziness.
With the use of this background information a lot of common causes of dizziness can be explained.
Labyrinthitis (inflammation of the balance organ) With Labyrinthitis one or both of the balance organs becomes inflamed, most often this is caused by a virus infection. The afflicted organ is sending abnormal or incorrect information to the brain that doesn’t correspond with the other balance organ and other systems. This cause’s severe acute dizziness often accompanied with nausea and vomiting, sometimes the patient also experiences deafness or tinnitus. The symptoms can be so severe that the patient becomes bed ridden as every movement aggravates the symptoms. No real effective treatment exists but luckily most symptoms subside after a few days, although full recovery can take several weeks.
Meniere’s disease is an affliction of the inner ear, in which both the hearing organ and the balancing organ are affected. Meniere’s disease causes dizziness, tinnitus and deafness. These symptoms can come in waves and can persist for any length of time from a few hours to days. In some cases the deafness can be permanent. Meniere is usually treated with medications, but the success the medication has varies greatly case to case.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional vertigo (BPPV) The balancing organ registers the position and movement of the head with the use of 5 fluid filled canals. Movement of the head causes these fluids to move which is registered by little hairs within the canals. BPPV occurs when tiny particles break loose and fall into the canals stimulating the nerves that detect head rotation. The brain receives the message that the head is spinning when this isn’t the case. BPPV usually comes on after a fast head movement and disappears after 15 to 30 seconds. BPPV usually comes on at a later stage in life after an ear infection or bump to the head. Your chiropractor will be able to determine if the dizziness that you are experiencing is indeed BPPV by taking a full history of your complaint and performing several tests. If you indeed have BPPV it can usually be treated successfully within 2 to 3 treatments. During these treatments your chiropractor will be moving the head in a very specific manner in an attempt to relocate the particles that have broken off. Of all forms of vertigo BPPV is probably the most easily treated.
Cervicogenic dizziness is dizziness cause by problems in the joints or muscles in the neck. As explained earlier the brain also uses the information from muscles and joints (proprioception). Injuries or movement difficulties to the neck can cause dizziness for that reason. A good example is dizziness as a consequence to a whiplash caused by a car accident. This kind of dizziness is often seen in a chiropractic office and usually responds very well to treatment.
Besides the relatively benign causes mentioned above dizziness can also be caused by more serious afflictions luckily this is rarely the case, however if your dizziness is continuous and present for long periods at a time, uninfluenced by movement and accompanied by other symptoms. Such as headache, vomiting, problems with your eye sight it would be best to visit your GP.