It is estimated that as many as 30 million Americans suffer from migraines, with a significant number of those being vestibular migraines. While it is true that this particular type of migraine is similar to many other forms it also exhibits some unique accompanying symptom that other forms don’t, including a feeling of vertigo.
In general terms migraines are one-sided, throbbing headaches of ranging from moderate and severe intensity (which will vary from individual to individual, and often from attack to attack) and are often accompanied by photo-sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. Some sufferers also experience dizziness as well as a visual aura that comes before the headache.
Vestibular migraines, however, are a variant form where dizziness is the predominant feature rather than a headache. Typically sufferers remark that they are overtaken by a sudden feeling of dizziness and often feel that they are no longer grounded – with some even describing a spinning or rocking feeling. Sufferers also experience photo-sensitivity and often vomit due to the combination of visual distortions and vertigo. Attacks can last anything from a matter of minutes to hours and in the most chronic form sufferers can experience a constant sense of imbalance. Typically vestibular migraine sufferers have had a history of migraine headaches before experiencing the symptoms of a vestibular migraine, though this may not necessarily always be the case.
No one is exactly certain as to what causes migraines, however it is believed that vestibular migraine sufferers many have inherited the condition. It is also theorized that the sensation of dizziness may be caused by an over-excited brain stem which overlaps with the vestibular structures. As these structures enable us to keep our balance the over-excited action of the brain stem causes the confusion that leads to feelings of dizziness. MRI images seem to support this thinking, at least thus far, though as of yet doctors have been unable to draw conclusive evidence from investigations into various sufferers’ conditions.
Generally speaking vestibular migraines are not especially common, at least as things stand. Some doctors believe that this may be due in part to the fact that the condition may be either undiagnosed in some sufferers or misdiagnosed as a condition called Meniere’s Disease, which is a type of vertigo that often affects older patients. It can also potentially be misdiagnosed as Benign Positional Vertigo, where the sufferer experiences brief episodes of vertigo typically lasting several minutes.
Despite the seemingly possible overlap between Meniere’s Disease and vestibular migraines, it seems that the migraine sufferers, whilst also having sensitivity to motion, also have a sensitivity to other migraine triggers such as bright lights and certain foods. Such patients will be affected by all of the traditional migraine triggers so this can be an indicative sign for either yourself or your doctor in determining the cause of vertigo, including being able to exclude several different structural abnormalities and seizures that could also potentially cause the same symptoms. The doctor can then reach a diagnosis and administer treatments such as those seen in the treatment of regular migraines to assist you as necessary.