Explaining Vertigo and the Vestibular System

Vestibular disorders are quite prevalent in the population and are one of the biggest reasons that someone goes to the ER.   The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and is responsible for balance and knowing where the body is in space.  If the vestibular system is not fully intact then quite often patients will complain of dizziness and possibly room spinning.   Patients may also complain of difficulty balancing while walking or going up stairs and can have symptoms of nausea.

One of the most frequent causes of dizziness is called BPPV, or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.  In the vestibular system in the inner ear there is a small organ called the utricle.  There are normally crystals located inside the utricle.  The problem is when the calcium crystals travel out of the utricle and fall into one of the semi-circular canals.  These canals sense movement and rotation such as when you turn your head, or lay down.  When the crystals travel into the canal they give the body the sense that it is spinning or moving.   Sometimes this recovers on its own, however frequently a physical therapist or physician can provide a treatment which helps moves the crystals back where they should be in the utricle.

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