Scientists in Korea found that people with osteoporosis, a disease that lowers bone density and increases risk of fracture, are also more likely to have vertigo, a dizziness disorder caused by problems in the inner ear.

The study was the work of Dr Ji Soo Kim, of Seoul National University College of Medicine in Korea, and colleagues, and is published in the 24 March issue of the journal Neurology.

For the study, Kim and colleagues examined 209 people with benign positional vertigo (BPV) for which there was no known cause and compared them with 202 people with no history of dizziness (the controls).

BPV can sometimes result from ear surgery or head trauma and is thought to be when crystals of calcium carbonate become loose and move around in the tubes of the inner ear that help people to balance.

For the osteoporosis data, the researchers used the bone mineral density measures of front and back lumbar spine and femur of the participants.

After adjusting for age, sex, alcohol, smoking, and hyperphosphatemia (a condition that can also lower calcium levels), the results showed that people with low bone density, or osteoporosis, were three times more likely to have vertigo than people with normal bone density.

They also showed that people with osteopenia, the stage before osteoporosis, were twice as likely to have vertigo as people with normal bone density.

The results showed gender differences in that 25 per cent of women with vertigo were more likely to have osteoporosis compared with only 9 per cent of women who did not have vertigo. For men, 12 per cent of those with vertigo had osteoporosis compared with 6 per cent without vertigo.

The researchers concluded that:

“Osteopenia/osteoporosis may be associated with idiopathic benign positional vertigo (BPV). The effectiveness of measuring bone mineral densitometry and restoring normal calcium metabolism for preventing recurrences of BPV requires further validation.”

Kim said in a press statement that:

“These findings suggest a problem with calcium metabolism in people with vertigo.”

“Women most often have their first case of vertigo in their 50s, when they are also having a drop in bone mass due to loss of estrogen,” added Kim, explaining that “estrogen is one of the main hormones that influence calcium and bone metabolism.”

So far, no one has discovered whether estrogen plays a role in vertigo, and since men also get vertigo, Kim suggests other factors must also be involved.

” Osteopenia and osteoporosis in idiopathic benign positional vertigo.”
S. H. Jeong, S. H. Choi, J. Y. Kim, J. W. Koo, H. J. Kim, and J. S. Kim.
Neurology 2009 72: 1069- 1076.
March 24 2009, Volume 72, Issue 12.

Sources: Journal abstract, American Academy of Neurology .

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD