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What is a Vestibular Migraine?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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A vestibular migraine is a headache that is accompanied by dizziness, balance problems, and nausea. People of any age can suffer from vestibular migraines, though they are most frequently seen in adult women who have a histories of vertigo episodes. In most cases, feelings of vertigo appear about 30 to 60 minutes before the onset of the head pain and can persist for several hours. Doctors can prescribe medications for people who experience frequent vestibular migraines to reduce the rate of incidence and lesson the severity of episodes.

The exact causes of vestibular migraines are unclear, though medical researchers believe that people can inherit predisposing factors from their parents. Numerous environmental factors can trigger episodes in people who are genetically prone to migraines, including bright lights, chronic stress, alcohol, and allergies. Vestibular migraines, which are less common than other forms of migraine disorders, may or may not be triggered by such conditions. Congenital inner ear deformities or chemical imbalances in the brain may contribute to some cases.

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A person who experiences a vestibular migraine typically notices odd sensations that stationary surroundings are in motion. He or she may start to lose balance and need to sit or lie down to prevent a fall. The dizziness often leads to feelings of nausea and bouts of vomiting. Within about an hour of the onset of vertigo, a dull, radiating headache sets in. Sensitivity to light can also accompany a vestibular migraine. Symptoms can last anywhere from one to five hours, and they are often relieved when a person is able to fall asleep.

Medical evaluation should be sought after experiencing a vestibular migraine so doctors can check for underlying problems. In the emergency room or a neurologist's office, specialists can conduct computerized tomography scans and magnetic resonance imaging screens of the brain to look for signs of tissue damage or abnormal tumors. An electroencephalogram may be used to determine if electrical signals in the brain are stable. Vestibular migraines are usually not indicative of brain damage or seizure disorders, but it is important to undergo thorough screenings so doctors can make sure.

Once other conditions have been ruled out, a doctor can discuss treatment options. A patient may be prescribed medication to take whenever he or she notices the first signs of a vestibular migraine to help relieve symptoms. People who suffer from frequent episodes may need to take daily medications. A physician may also be able to help a patient identify and avoid possible triggers in the future. Most people eventually stop having migraines altogether, but for some it is a lifelong problem.

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