Chapter 1, Episode 3: What is Vestibular Migraine?


This content has been medically reviewed by Dr. Michael Teixido.

Many parts of the brain can be affected in a migraine attack which means a wide range of symptoms can occur. When brain circuits for balance are affected a person will experience symptoms of dizziness which is known as vestibular migraine. Your doctor might also call vestibular migraine migraine-associated vertigo or migrainous vertigo. 

The vestibular system is in the inner ear and controls your balance and perception of movement. With vestibular migraine there is a problem processing the turning and tilting signals in the brain making patients very sensitive to motion. Most people with vestibular migraine have a lifetime history of motion sickness. 

This faulty processing can also impact vision signals from the eyes and motion signals from the inner ears which are important to normal balance. Many people have difficulty when objects are flowing by like when walking down a supermarket aisle or driving by a fence. 

The main symptoms of vestibular migraine include dizziness vertigo and difficulties with balance. Symptoms can also include nausea or vomiting, confusion, sensitivity to light or sound, ringing in the ears and feeling of pressure in your ears. Symptoms may be short and frequent, long-lasting or even continuous for weeks or months. It is important to know that you can have a vestibular migraine attack with or without a headache. Symptoms can be triggered by stress, weather, hormones, lack of sleep, dehydration, diet and smoking. 

The treatment of vestibular migraine is the same as the treatment for frequent migraine attacks and relies on a combination of lifestyle changes and preventative medications. Stress reduction, hydration, regular exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep are essential for recovery in these patients. Some medications can be used to decrease or eliminate symptoms during attacks such as triptans, anticholinergics, antihistamines, benzodiazepines and anti-nausea drugs. Non-medicinal treatments like neuromodulation devices, cognitive behavioral therapy, vestibular physical therapy and supplements like coenzyme q10, magnesium and riboflavin may also help. 

Other inner ear conditions like Meniere’s disease and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo have symptoms that overlap with vestibular migraine. This could be a cause for misdiagnosis. Additionally, people with vestibular migraine may also be living with more than one of these diseases. For these reasons, people with these symptoms should visit a specialist such as an ear, nose and throat doctor or a neurotologist for the best chance of an accurate diagnosis.

This video is sponsored in part by Amgen, Abbvie, Lilly, Lundbeck, Biohaven, and Impel Pharmaceuticals.

*The contents of this video are intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. AMD does not recommend or endorse any treatment, products, or procedures mentioned. Reliance on any information provided by this content is solely at your own risk.