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JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Recurrent spontaneous attacks of dizziness

Thomas Lempert
Continuum: Lifelong Learning in Neurology 2012, 18 (5 Neuro-otology): 1086-101
23042061

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: This article describes the common causes of recurrent vertigo and dizziness that can be diagnosed largely on the basis of history.

RECENT FINDINGS: Ninety percent of spontaneous recurrent vertigo and dizziness can be explained by six disorders: (1) Ménière disease is characterized by vertigo attacks, lasting 20 minutes to several hours, with concomitant hearing loss, tinnitus, and aural fullness. Aural symptoms become permanent during the course of the disease. (2) Attacks of vestibular migraine may last anywhere from minutes to days. Most patients have a previous history of migraine headaches, and many experience migraine symptoms during the attack. (3) Vertebrobasilar TIAs affect older adults with vascular risk factors. Most attacks last less than 1 hour and are accompanied by other symptoms from the posterior circulation territory. (4) Vestibular paroxysmia is caused by vascular compression of the eighth cranial nerve. It manifests itself with brief attacks of vertigo that recur many times per day, sometimes with concomitant cochlear symptoms. (5) Orthostatic hypotension causes brief episodes of dizziness lasting seconds to a few minutes after standing up and is relieved by sitting or lying down. In older adults, it may be accompanied by supine hypertension. (6) Panic attacks usually last minutes, occur in specific situations, and are accompanied by choking, palpitations, tremor, heat, and anxiety. Less common causes of spontaneous recurrent vertigo and dizziness include perilymph fistula, superior canal dehiscence, autoimmune inner ear disease, otosclerosis, cardiac arrhythmia, and medication side effects.

SUMMARY: Neurologists need to venture into otolaryngology, internal medicine, and psychiatry to master the differential diagnosis of recurrent dizziness.

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