Links exist between multiple sclerosis (MS) and vertigo, as well as between MS and dizziness. Vertigo and dizziness are not the same thing. While vertigo refers to a spinning sensation, dizziness is a general term that denotes lightheadedness, disorientation, or feeling off-balance.
Both vertigo and dizziness occur in MS when the condition affects the brain stem and cerebellum, which are parts of the brain that play a major role in balance. Vertigo may sometimes result from other causes, such as inner ear conditions or medication side effects.
In chronic or long-term cases, doctors may treat vertigo with anti-nausea or motion sickness medications. Management strategies to promote safety are also necessary to help prevent injuries.
This article discusses whether MS causes vertigo and how it causes dizziness. It also examines symptoms and treatment of MS-induced vertigo and lists support group resources.
One of the
What is MS?
MS is an autoimmune condition. This means the immune system, which typically attacks microbes and unhealthy cells, mistakenly attacks myelin in the central nervous system (CNS), brain, and spinal cord. Myelin is the substance that composes the myelin sheath, a protective coating of nerve fibers. The attacks on myelin can cause damage and scar tissue called plaques or lesions.
The condition is one of the
MS is chronic. In some people, it is mild and causes no disability, while in others, it may cause increasing disability over time. It is rarely fatal, and most individuals have a typical life expectancy.
Learn more about MS.
Dizziness and vertigo usually stem from the development of a new lesion or the growth of an existing lesion on the brain stem or cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls balance, while the brain stem sends and receives messages to parts of the body that affect balance.
Sometimes, a person with MS may also have dizziness and vertigo due to other causes, which may include:
Episodes of vertigo from MS typically can last from a few seconds to minutes. The onset may occur without warning. Symptoms may include:
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of balance that can result in falls
- hearing conditions, such as ringing in the ears
- vision difficulties
Learn more about vertigo.
For chronic vertigo, a doctor may prescribe one of the
- meclizine, a medication for dizziness and nausea due to motion sickness, which is available under the following brand names:
- Dramamine Less Drowsy
- Bonine Max
- Dramamine Nausea Long Lasting
- Dramamine II
- Driminate II
- ondansetron (Zofran, Zofran ODT, Zuplenz), a medication for nausea
- diazepam (Valium), a medication for anxiety
When vertigo occurs, a person is at risk of falls and injuries, so management strategies are important. To help promote safety, a person can try:
- sitting until the symptoms go away
- avoiding stairs
- refraining from moving the head or changing body positions
- not driving until it is clear that the vertigo has passed
- dimming bright lights and not reading
- being cautious and beginning to move slowly after the vertigo appears to have passed
If vertigo happens at night, sit up straight and turn on soft lighting. Stay still until it passes.
Other strategies to reduce the risk of an injury include:
- installing handrails and grab bars
- removing tripping hazards, particularly throw rugs
- using a walker or cane
- using a shower chair
Additionally, the following strategies may help minimize symptoms:
- Physical therapy: This may improve coordination and balance.
- Exercise: This involves any regular physical activity.
- Acupressure therapy: This targets pressure points on the body that relate to vertigo.
- Occupational therapy: This can help someone learn how to move more safely in the home or office, particularly during an attack.
- Log of episodes: Keeping a log of the times when vertigo occurs can indicate when to schedule daily activities. An individual can plan tasks when attacks are less likely to happen.
- eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables
- avoiding processed foods and foods with added sugar
- choosing whole grains — such as brown rice — rather than refined grains
- preparing meals at home as much as possible
Learn more about home remedies for vertigo.
These include the following:
- The National Multiple Sclerosis Society provides an online community as well as a search function for finding local support groups.
- The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation offers a search function for locating local support groups.
- The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America has a toll-free helpline where people with MS — along with their families and friends — can speak with an experienced specialist. Call 800-532-7667, extension 154. Help via email is also available at MSquestions@mymsaa.org.
Vertigo and dizziness occur when MS lesions affect the brain stem and cerebellum. However, other conditions — such as stroke and migraine — may also cause them.
Symptoms of vertigo may include nausea, lightheadedness, and loss of balance.
Doctors may treat chronic cases with motion sickness medications, such as meclizine. Management strategies to help prevent injuries may include sitting still during an attack until the symptoms go away. Physical therapy to increase balance and occupational therapy to maximize safety may also help.