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JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Pharmacological treatment of vertigo

Timothy C Hain, Mohammed Uddin
CNS Drugs 2003, 17 (2): 85-100
12521357
This review discusses the physiology and pharmacological treatment of vertigo and related disorders. Classes of medications useful in the treatment of vertigo include anticholinergics, antihistamines, benzodiazepines, calcium channel antagonists and dopamine receptor antagonists. These medications often have multiple actions. They may modify the intensity of symptoms (e.g. vestibular suppressants) or they may affect the underlying disease process (e.g. calcium channel antagonists in the case of vestibular migraine). Most of these agents, particularly those that are sedating, also have a potential to modulate the rate of compensation for vestibular damage. This consideration has become more relevant in recent years, as vestibular rehabilitation physical therapy is now often recommended in an attempt to promote compensation. Accordingly, therapy of vertigo is optimised when the prescriber has detailed knowledge of the pharmacology of medications being administered as well as the precise actions being sought. There are four broad causes of vertigo, for which specific regimens of drug therapy can be tailored. Otological vertigo includes disorders of the inner ear such as Ménière's disease, vestibular neuritis, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and bilateral vestibular paresis. In both Ménière's disease and vestibular neuritis, vestibular suppressants such as anticholinergics and benzodiazepines are used. In Ménière's disease, salt restriction and diuretics are used in an attempt to prevent flare-ups. In vestibular neuritis, only brief use of vestibular suppressants is now recommended. Drug treatments are not presently recommended for BPPV and bilateral vestibular paresis, but physical therapy treatment can be very useful in both. Central vertigo includes entities such as vertigo associated with migraine and certain strokes. Prophylactic agents (L-channel calcium channel antagonists, tricyclic antidepressants, beta-blockers) are the mainstay of treatment for migraine-associated vertigo. In individuals with stroke or other structural lesions of the brainstem or cerebellum, an eclectic approach incorporating trials of vestibular suppressants and physical therapy is recommended. Psychogenic vertigo occurs in association with disorders such as panic disorder, anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. Benzodiazepines are the most useful agents here. Undetermined and ill-defined causes of vertigo make up a large remainder of diagnoses. An empirical approach to these patients incorporating trials of medications of general utility, such as benzodiazepines, as well as trials of medication withdrawal when appropriate, physical therapy and psychiatric consultation is suggested.

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