Migraine Associated Vertigo Symptoms

What exactly are migraine associated vertigo symptoms?  For that matter, what is migraine-associated vertigo (MAV)?  Is it a disease?  What causes it?  How is it treated?

Another term sometimes used is vestibular migraine.  But neither MAV or vestibular migraine are considered specific types of migraine (according to The International Classification of Headache Disorders).  So it better not to look at migraine associated vertigo symptoms, but at migraine associated vertigo as a symptom of migraine disease.

Dizziness, vertigo, and motion sensitivity are not at all uncommon in migraine.  Some people experience one of these during every attack, for others it comes and goes.

Vertigo could actually be a clue into which type of migraine you have, because some "official" types of migraine are associated with vertigo more than others.

One type with migraine associated vertigo symptoms is basilar-type migraine.  Another is familial hemiplegic migraine.

Sometimes vertigo from migraine is mistaken for Ménière Disease.  But vertigo in migraine doesn’t tend to last as long (usually less than 24 hours) and it’s typically accompanied by other migraine symptoms (such as photophobia – a sensitivity to light).  In Ménière Disease, the vertigo tends to last longer, and is usually accompanied by hearing loss and tinnitus (ie a ringing in the ears).

Note, however, that it has been suggested that there is a link between the vertigo in migraine and the vertigo in Ménière Disease.  More studies need to be done on this.

Just because you have vertigo doesn’t mean you have basilar type migraine or hemiplegic migraine.  These types of migraine are fairly rare, but vertigo is fairly common in migraine patients.  It’s estimated that 25-35% of migraineurs experience vertigo.  Sometimes vertigo may be the only symptom of a migraine attack (ie no pain).

So it’s important not to be satisfied with MAV as a diagnosis – this is a symptom, and it could be a symptom of various types of migraine.  Of course, your vertigo could be a symptom of something else.

Make sure you talk to a doctor or specialist who understands your medical history.  Tell your doctor if you’ve had a history of motion-sickness.  Also, tell her how long the vertigo lasts.  Do you have other migraine symptoms?  Are you a smoker?  Have you experienced hearing loss?  What does the "vertigo" feel like?  Do you get dizzy?  Does the room feel like it’s spinning?  Do you feel like you’re about to pass out?  All these things may be important.

Looking for other symptoms aside from vertigo or dizziness may help your doctor make a proper diagnosis and get you the treatment that will help the most.

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17 comments… add one
  • Kay Mar 2, 2010

    It is very frustrating when the ONLY symptom you have for years and years is vertigo and doctors don’t think there is any way that can be migraine. For the longest time, I fit that description.

    To make matters worse, the attacks would last for days (sometimes weeks) which really made the doctors want to rule out migraine as the culprit.

    What eventually got me diagnosed as having migraines turned out to be a mistake. The doctor asked me if I saw flashing lights and I said yes. Turns out, though, that what he meant and what I meant were two different things. But a trial of Amerge made the vertigo go away and this seemed to clinch the diagnosis.

    I still sometimes wonder, though, if it really is migraine …

  • Kay Mar 2, 2010

    PS – So I just read the description of basilar migraine that you linked to and boy does it describe my symptoms well. Wow. Thanks for linking to that.

  • Tamara Mar 3, 2010

    Some very good information on MAV. I have talked with people that have experienced mainly MAV and it can be very debilitating. These symptoms are also associated with Acephalgic or Silent Migraine. When it is mainly the vertigo and nausea that are the main symptoms, people can find that their health condition gets misdiagnosed. With migraine disease it is very important to isolate the cause or trigger of your migraines and Symptom Journal helps people reduce their symptoms and reduce their incidence of migraine attacks.
    Learn how to reduce your symptoms and regain optimal health in as little as 14 Days with Symptom Journal’s online self-help health tools. Start today to track your diet, daily choices, symptoms, and treatment to improve your health at:

  • Jasmine Mar 3, 2010

    Thank you for bringing this issue to your readers’ attention. I found a lot of information (including finding a doctor near you who specializes in Vestibular Disorders) at http://www.vestibular.org/

    I also blogged a little bit about my experience for Balance Awareness Week (Sept 20-26, 2009):

  • Marla Sep 28, 2010

    My 15 year old daughter started to wean off of lexapro (her anxiety med) that she was on for 4 years. She was put on it for anxiety the summer her first period occurred, so puberty/hormones were involved, i’m sure.
    We started to wean her in April. A week later she started to get dizzy and faint feeling. We bumped it back up to original dose. Dizziness,etc. still occurred. We started weaning again in June and she has been totally off of lexapro since July 11, 2010. We have seen 4 neurologists and had about 15 tests done all summer. The one neuro from North Western in Chicago who only deals with dizziness diagnosed her as having migraine assoc vertigo because of getting off the lexapro. She has been put on verapamil and had bad side effects. and is now on 12.5 mg of atenolol. (She also tried topamax in June thru another doc and that made her totally lethargic.) I just wanted to post this to see if anyone has any advice or feedback. We are really discouraged. She’s been on atenolol for 2 weeks and sees no improvement. If anything, she feels worse with symptoms.
    Her main issues are dizziness/faint feeling. But she also gets the bad headaches, nauseated, motion sickness, lights and sounds and smells bother her, shoulders are in pain., etc.
    She’s a sophomore in hs and is missing school every day.

  • Nichola hammill Oct 20, 2010

    Hi maria, like your daughter I also suffer from mav
    I understand completely what she is going through. I have just tried topamax for the last 4 months but I’ve had to wean off them as the side affects are scary. It took me a long time to get a diagnosis. But my specialist has been great. Does your daughter get spinny head if so has she tried epley m ?
    Regards nici

  • Demosthena Dec 20, 2010

    It is a travesity that the medicine treats dizziness suffers with such a lack of regard in differentiating the contributing factors. Many spend years in desperate conditions without any chance of real treatment because of it.

  • jen Feb 22, 2011

    Maybe it was the LEXAPRO that was keeping her migraine associated vertigo at bay and when she went off they started to come back?

  • deneen Aug 26, 2011

    my name is Deneen I”ve been diagnosed with silent migraines. i”ve been suffering with this for 1 year and 2 months. I have a 5 year old and a 1 year old. It all started by me sitting on the floor leaning over and i started to roll like an alligator rolls when they are trying to rip they”re pray.I could not stop rolling . Went for tests and was told that i have what they call silent migraines without the headache. I am very dizzy every day , went through alot of therapy to learn how to walk again,and turn my head without falling. My neighbor recommended me to see her chiropractor. I” ve been going about a year now and i think she gave me the best results.Im slowly getting back on my feet again but it”s going to be a long road ahead because she only uses a pressure tool on me. Iwon”t let her snap my neck.Here she found my c1 in my neck is way out of place.I had mri”s and a cat scan you think A DOCTOR would have notice that of course they didn”t. so sometimes alot of peoplles problems come from being out of line.I came a long way but have a long way to go .I just want my life back so i can take care of my children and help my mom who recently went through bladder cancer but had 2 mini strokes 2 weeks after that.She is in my prayers every day and i hope i get well so i can take care of her.It makes me sad ican”t help her right now.I have to work on getting myself better first.

  • Amir Dec 25, 2011

    Hello everyone, I am 14years old boy from Macedonia, I was dizzy 24/7(now it is a bit better), not experiencing true vertigos anymore, I had blurrey vision and bright lights which are gone but now I have double vision on nearby objects(the out of focus ones) I rarelyy get headaches, pain in my neck,shoulders,throat(coming via the ear, I am also getting hearing loss and PIIIP sound in my eight ear) the pains on neck,shoulder,throatt made me think that I have somekind of artery pain, I’ve been to my docs many times and nothing found yet, my balance was bad(when I was sticking without movement I started to fall to one side) but now that is gone! also had Fatigue which is gone too.. I am on week 15now, experiencing panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, hypochondriasis, depression etc.. and not having a diagnosis makes you feel bad! I cannot decide beetween Labyrinthitis, MAV, Vestibular Neuronitis, Meningitis, Giant-cell arteries(I also have giant looking carotid artery’s but my doctor said it’s becouse of my much developement), Meniere’s disease etc…

  • Melanie Jan 6, 2012

    I have had a constant vestibular migraine condition for almost 5 months. It started suddenly and the symptoms have never left. I have had every type of test done and have tried many different medications but have gotten no relief from the 24/7 lightheadedness and head pressure (with no pain). I finally saw a neurologist that specializes in vestibular disorders and he though that this could be vestibular migraines. He started me on Inderal which is a blood pressure medicine for 3 weeks but it didn’t help ease the dizziness. He then added Lexapro, and after 2 weeks of taking both of the medication I am FINALLY noticing the dizziness and pressure start to subside a bit. He said it will take more time for me to feel back to normal (I’ve actually forgotten what normal feels like) but I’m definitely going to continue taking both the medications as long as I need to. I am very sensitive to all types of medications as well and the Lexapro has curbed my appetite quite a bit and I do seem to wake up at night and have a little trouble sleeping but I will take that over the dizziness any day. He said the side effects might lessen in time so I will just wait it out but am very pleased so far at the results…I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever get better.

  • Julie Calvey Jul 24, 2012

    This is a very good post. It’s VERY frustrating. I was bedridden due to the severity of my symptoms. I finally had to drug myself to get to a doctor, but what doctor? LONG story. I’m also blogging to get the word OUT so others can figure out what they have. If I hadn’t come across a blog like this I would have continued to think I was going crazy, (as more than one doctor did). Keep it up! Thanks!

  • Lisa May 6, 2013

    Diagnosed in December of 2005 with Vestibular Migraine after a lifetime of on and off dizzy attacks. After fighting doctors for 6 miserable years, I caved and began to trial conventional drugs. I exhausted every alternative route and my quality of life was diminishing. While I am not 100% cured whatsoever, very low doses of clonopin have helped as has a pediatric dose of lexapro. I fought the meds for year afraid to try SSRI’s and anti-convulsants but don’t give up. You will find the right med for you. This is not an easy condition to treat.

  • Mirian Bethancourt Dec 21, 2014

    This is a good site for sharing information about the dizzy spells associated with migraine. I had migraine with auras for many years and recently the auras have left but now I have dizziness. I have them worse in the morning than afternoon and rarely at night. I build my lifestyle around late afternoon and night activities and control(somewhat) the dizziness with two (500 mg) Tylenols after breakfast and a low dose Clonazopam tab. at night. Also trying diet. No definite diagnosis from doctors. An inner ear infection was suspected but ruled out. It’s been eight weeks now and I have not gone a whole day without one or more of the above symptoms.

  • janet Jan 11, 2015

    I have migraine associated vertigo for over six years .for one whole year I was constanly having vertigo attacks.it took three years and several dr.s to finally get help .this condition has so many awfull things that go with it .here are a few .no balance constance nausea .noise smells can trigger vertigo .weather changes effect you at any pressure drops .earpain constantly .its unbelievable .its a battle .I take nortriptline it helps with motion sickness.i have had every vestibular test there is .I am cronic .my right ear is damaged and I am now losing some hearing.walking is difficult I often use a walker .but its a very difficult thing to live with .but I make the best of it .I have top knotch specialists who got to the bottom of it all .be positive cause this is lifelong .the best of luck to anyone who has mav .just be positive and things seem a little easier to live with it .

  • vicki Apr 23, 2015

    Hia I have had vertigo now for about 6 yrs docs said it was meniers disease and gave me cenerozine they worked for 5 yrs then all of a sudden they stopped working and my balance is always off now I take certraline for anxiety and that’s the only thing that stops the vertigo and the pounding head without head ache x

  • Petra Jun 15, 2015

    I started to have debilitating dizziness and nausea a few months after my son was born. That was 23 years ago. I have had these spells about 3 or 4 times a year since. The longest one lasted about 4 days. I always thought it was a sinus thing and weather related because sinus medication did tend to help. I have been to the ENT and he found nothing wrong. The doctors said that if the OIC sinus meds help to keep using them. About 3 years ago I had visual symptoms. At that point I could say it was exactly like a migraine I had when I was in college, almost 35 years ago. That was the only painful migraine I have ever had. If I had not had the visual symptoms I would have continued to think it was my sinuses. Luckily my doctor is very receptive to my thoughts and he prescribed Zofran for when I get really bad. He accepts my diagnosis of silent migraine because we have looked at everything else and have come up with nothing. I might ask him about the Lexapro but, since I get them only a few times a year, I wonder if it’s worth it.

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