MS & vertigo: what you need to know

As a person with MS you may feel off-balance or lightheaded sometimes – much less often you can have the sensation that you or your surroundings are spinning (vertigo). Read on to find out what action you can immediately take to feel better.

Women with vertigo symptoms

What is vertigo?

Vertigo makes you feel like you or your surrounding environment is moving and spinning – even when you are perfectly still. This can make you feel nauseous and unsteady walking and can lead to falls.

When we feel orientated, we are relying on a number of sensory interactions between our eyes, touch, movement and joint sensors and the balance system in our inner ears. All these interactions combine and provide matching information to our brain.

With MS, damage to the brain makes it difficult for the nerves within the central nervous system to send messages to the rest of the body. Damage to the areas of the brain which control balance can cause this information to conflict, resulting in vertigo. 

As well as MS, there are also other possible causes of vertigo, so it is important you talk to your doctor to rule them out first. These include:

  • Migraine

  • Stroke

  • Medication

  • Blood vessel disease

  • Problems with the inner ear

Fortunately there is action you can take immediately to manage MS vertigo symptoms. Firstly, let’s take a look at the symptoms you might experience with vertigo.

MS & vertigo symptoms

The first time you experience vertigo it can be especially alarming as you may not have experienced anything like it before – it can feel intense, like you are on a fairground ride. 

There are a number of resulting symptoms that can occur with vertigo. If you were spinning on a fairground ride for a while you would begin to feel sick or vomit. You can experience this same reaction with vertigo, especially if it continues for hours or days. The resulting dizziness can also lead to problems walking or standing as you feel like your environment is moving. Your vision and hearing can also be impaired.

MS vertigo symptoms include:

  • Loss of balance – leading to falls

  • Vision problems 

  • Hearing problems such as tinnitus

  • Feeling sick or being sick

  • Dizziness

  • Feeling light-headed

Loss of balance can increase the risk of injury due to falls, especially if you already have other MS symptoms such as problems with your MS gait, weakness and MS fatigue. Taking some safety measures in your home, such as using a shower chair and clearing any tripping hazards, can help to reduce the risk of falling. 

 

MS vertigo – how long does it last? 

It is rare for vertigo to persist for a long time. A typical episode of vertigo lasts for seconds or minutes. 

Severe vertigo (such as vertigo as a result of Ménière's disease, which is unrelated to MS) is uncommon, but it can be constant and last for a few days. 

Attacks of vertigo can come on suddenly with no warning and can therefore be very disruptive. However, there are ways that you can successfully control vertigo symptoms. 

Treatment for vertigo when you have MS

When you have vertigo as a result of MS, there are a number of treatments available. Lightheadedness and dizziness are common MS symptoms, but vertigo is more severe. There are many ways in which vertigo can be managed including:

Physiotherapy  

You will benefit from physiotherapy as the therapist will determine which head positions make the vertigo worse and then work with you to build up your tolerance in those positions.

Diet

Following a diet plan can manage many MS symptoms collectively and this will help to make your MS more manageable so that you can get on with enjoying life. 

Medication

Anti-nausea and antihistamine medication can help and if the symptoms are severe, steroids are often prescribed. You can also get over-the-counter anti-motion sickness medications.

Exercise

Exercise will improve your strength and muscle tone and elevate your mood. It can also help with any mobility issues and your balance and coordination.

When you feel vertigo it will help you to feel more comfortable if you:

  • Find somewhere to sit down

  • Avoid reading

  • Avoid moving your body and head

  • Move very slowly when you do feel the vertigo passing

  • Don’t drive

  • Turn down bright lights. If a vertigo episode happens during the night while you are in bed, turn on a dim light and sit up straight. Lying down in the dark may trigger the vertigo symptoms to return.

Whatever the cause of your vertigo, there are actions you can take to feel better.

What are the next steps?

If it seems like there is too much information and you don’t know where to start, read through our next steps – we can help you.


Further reading