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Can Anxiety Cause Vertigo? What the Science Says

Can Anxiety Cause Vertigo? What the Science Says

What is Vertigo?

More a symptom than an illness in itself, vertigo is a feeling of dizziness. It is commonly linked with the fear of heights. However, this belief is incorrect. Vertigo is caused by problems in the brain, inner ear diseases like Ménière's, or issues in the sensory nerve pathway.

Vertigo can feel like motion sickness. Everything around you starts to spin, and you feel like you might pass out from it. Although it is most common in adults over 65, both vertigo and dizziness can strike at any age.

Symptoms of Vertigo

Vertigo symptoms can recur and last up to a few hours while the implications are either short term or long term. They may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea
  • Nystagmus or abnormal eye movements
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
  • Excessive sweating
  • Migraines
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of hearing
  • Vomiting

What is the Cause of Vertigo?

Vertigo can be caused by problems related to the Central Nervous System. The causes of vertigo include:

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

  1. BPPV, or Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, is a common cause of vertigo that can trigger a feeling of dizziness or fast-paced movement. Episodes of BPPV can be triggered by trauma to the head. The otolith organs of the inner ear contain calcium carbonate. BPPV occurs when these particles get dislodged and fall into the semicircular canal. Due to this, there is an inaccurate transformation of information to one's brain, which explains dizziness.
  2. Ménière's Disease is a disease caused by changing pressure and a fluid buildup in the inner ear. It is more common in adults of age 40 to 60. The precise root of the disease is unclear; however, it is believed to be a reaction to viral infections or blood vessels' constriction. The cause of Ménière's disease may also be genetic. The disease symptoms are a loss of hearing and Tinnitus, which is the ringing of the ears.
  3. Labyrinthitis or Vestibular Neuritis occurs when the inner ear is inflamed due to viral infections. The vestibulocochlear nerve within the inner ear is the nerve that transmits information about positioning, sound, and motion. This is an inner ear problem usually related to infection (usually viral). As the nerve is vital in sensing balance, dizziness is an immediate response. Besides this, people with labyrinthitis experience symptoms like changes in the line of vision, loss of hearing, and migraines.
  4. Cholesteatoma is an infection-induced, non-cancerous growth in the mid-ear. The mid-ear is the section behind the eardrum, which means that this condition can cause significant damage to the structure of the ear and lead to complete loss of hearing.

Some of the lesser-known causes of vertigo include:

  • Muscle weakness due to Ataxia
  • Brain stem disease or Cerebellar
  • Migraines
  • Brain tumors or strokes
  • Injuries to the neck or head
  • Syphilis

The Relation Between Vertigo, Stress, and Anxiety

Can Stress Cause Vertigo?

Simply put, stress does not directly cause vertigo. However, it can worsen already existing symptoms. As stress harms bodily functions, most harmful effects of stress manifest themselves almost immediately. Others develop over a while and may be harder to detect.

High-stress windows cause fluctuations in your hormones that impact the nervous system. It sets off your fight or flight response and boosts the production of adrenaline and cortisol. Soon after such stress dissipates, the nervous system starts to calm down as well. However, when such patterns are repeated, stress can cause side effects such as loss of balance and dizziness.

A 2018 study suggests a strong link between stress levels and vertigo, especially for those diagnosed with anxiety and other mental health disorders. It is also a strong trigger for those with comorbidities, i.e., multiple chronic disorders at one time.

Can Anxiety Cause Dizziness?

Yes, anxiety can cause dizziness. The link between the two goes both ways in the sense that some may feel dizzy because of their anxiety, while others feel dizzy first and then get anxious. A study from 2012 proved that there exists, in fact, a connection between chronic dizziness and anxiety.

Examples of the same can be seen in the form of disorders such as Psychiatric vestibular disorder. People who fear needles tend to feel dizzy when undergoing blood tests. Thus, anxiety may cause this feeling of lightheadedness.

Anxiety induces fear. Persons who feel dizzy often tend to get overly cautious of their movements for fear of getting sick and feeling nauseous. Structural Vestibular disorder caused by irregularities found in the inner ear or the peripheral feeds this anxiety.

Dizziness is a natural outcome in high anxiety and high-stress situations.

Treatment Options

As vertigo is more of a symptom than a disorder, the treatment course is subjective as it is based on the symptoms one experiences. Diagnosing vertigo considers causes for stress or anxiety, the duration, frequency of episodes, and the symptoms experienced.

Vestibular rehabilitation therapy has proven to be most effective against vertigo. It is a physical therapy that strengthens the vestibular system responsible for transmitting signals throughout the body.

An antihistamine called Meclizine, which is used in treating allergies, has proved to be successful in curbing vertigo caused by Ménière's disease. But research suggests that Meclizine worsened conditions in the elderly population and led to amnesia.

In case of any such discomfort, consult a doctor immediately.


How long does vertigo last?

The duration of a vertigo attack can vary from seconds to hours together. In severe cases, it doesn't go away for months. A person may experience vertigo during a certain temporary window of time in their life or may have to live with it permanently.

Can a person with vertigo drive a car?

No, individuals who are prone to vertigo attacks should not drive. However, if cleared by a healthcare professional, one might resume after it is declared safe.

Does vertigo go away gradually?

More often than not, vertigo eventually goes away without any treatment. The brain tends to adapt and rely on other mechanisms to restore and maintain balance in the body.

Vertigo is a serious symptom. Treating it using home remedies may be a short-term fix but might end up doing you more harm than good. If you continue to experience vertigo attacks at regular intervals, get to the bottom of it by visiting your local general physician, a neurologist, or an ENT specialist.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1316083/
  2. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijol/2011/835671/abs/
  3. https://www.orthobethesda.com/blog/can-stress-cause-vertigo/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167494311000914
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696792/
  6. http://scholar.google.co.in/scholar?q=Vertigo+research&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart


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