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Managing Dizziness and Vertigo in MS

Updated on April 01, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

What It Feels Like | Causes | Management | Support

Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience dizziness and light-headedness. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, at least 1 in 3 people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis will experience dizziness sometime during their life. People with MS can also experience vertigo — the sensation that your surroundings are spinning or swaying or that you are completely out of balance with the room and objects around you. This sensation is often accompanied by a feeling of light-headedness.

MS is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord. This process can cause lesions — areas of damaged tissue. Dizziness and vertigo in MS may be caused by new or growing MS-related lesions. In some cases, however, these symptoms can result from factors unrelated to MS.

What Do Dizziness and Vertigo in MS Feel Like?

Dizzy spells are a common symptom of MS, and several members of MyMSTeam identified dizziness as an early sign of their condition. “My very first symptom of MS was dizziness,” one member shared, while another commented, “A couple of years ago, I started with random dizzy spells, but I never went to the doctor because it always passed.”

Dizziness and vertigo can make a person feel sick, and can interfere with daily life. “Today, I couldn't get out of bed,” one MyMSTeam member wrote. “The room was spinning, and the feeling of nausea was huge. I had to call in sick.”

“I went to church, then came home and cooked dinner,” another member shared. “During dinner, I got a dizzy spell and had to sit down. I was barely able to finish.”

Sometimes, dizziness can be very disabling. “I've been extremely dizzy all day. I’m so dizzy I can't walk straight,” a member wrote.

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Some people diagnosed with MS find that dizziness comes and goes. When one MyMSTeam member commented on feeling dizzy that day, others responded with reassurances such as, “Tomorrow, you may not be so dizzy” and “You will feel that way. It comes and goes.”

Although knowing dizziness is temporary may be a relief, the symptom can still be unsettling. Feeling dizzy can also cause balance problems and even lead to falls. It’s important to understand and treat this symptom to minimize the impact it has on your life.

What Causes Dizziness and Vertigo in MS?

Several different factors may cause a person with MS to experience dizziness and vertigo. Some of these are related to MS, while others — such as inner-ear problems — are not.

Lesions

MS-related dizziness and vertigo result from lesions in the pathway responsible for coordinating visual information, spatial information, and other data to help a person navigate through space. This pathway is called the vestibular system. It is key to helping you know where you are relative to your surroundings and maintaining proper equilibrium (balance).

MS lesions may also be found on the brain stem where it connects the inner ear (which is essential to balance) to the brain. They may also form on the cerebellum — the area of the brain that helps with balance.

Flare-Ups

Dizziness and vertigo can occur during an MS flare-up — a period of worsened symptoms. Flare-ups happen periodically for most people diagnosed with MS, and usually subside after a period of time.

Medications

Some people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis experience dizziness and vertigo as a side effect of certain medications they are taking, whether for MS or for another condition. Many medications have dizziness as a possible side effect, so it’s important to work with your health care team to determine whether anything you’re taking might be causing dizziness or vertigo.

Causes Unrelated To MS

Sometimes, people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis experience dizziness because of a separate condition. Dizziness and vertigo can be symptoms of:

  • Inner-ear problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Blood vessel diseases
  • Strokes
  • Migraines

A health care provider can determine the exact cause of your symptoms and offer medical advice.

How To Manage Dizziness and Vertigo in MS

Managing dizziness and vertigo involves finding solutions for keeping yourself safe while dizzy, and finding long-term solutions to keep dizziness away altogether. Your neurologist can determine why you are experiencing dizziness and vertigo, and help you find the solutions that work for you.

Helping Dizziness Pass

If you are dizzy, light-headed, or feel that the room is spinning, it’s important to take a few steps right away to help yourself feel better and to avoid falls and potential injury. MS Focus Magazine recommends taking several steps as soon as possible if you start experiencing dizziness or vertigo.

  • Sit down — Find the nearest place to sit yourself down safely. If it helps, anchor your head on a wall or the back of a chair.
  • Don’t move — Avoid moving your head or body position while experiencing dizziness or vertigo.
  • Dim bright lights — Don’t try to read or watch TV. Just sit until the sensation passes.
  • Have support ready — Keep a support device nearby in case you must move around while dizzy. If you experience frequent dizzy spells, it’s important to use a cane or walker, install grab bars, and ensure your home is free of tripping hazards.
  • Let yourself recover — Wait until you start feeling better to try and get up. Start by moving slowly and seeing if the symptoms return.

Motion-Sickness Medications

Many people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis find that taking motion-sickness medication helps alleviate symptoms of dizziness and vertigo. “I take a motion-sickness pill that stops the dizziness, and I lay down until I start feeling better,” one MyMSTeam member shared.

Consider purchasing over-the-counter motion-sickness medications and keeping them on hand for whenever a dizzy spell occurs. If your dizziness persists or becomes chronic, your neurologist may prescribe stronger motion sickness medications for you. Be sure to confer with your doctor before trying any new medications or treatments.

Other Medications

If motion-sickness medications don’t help or you don’t want to take them long-term, your doctor may prescribe another type of medication. Some people find that antihistamines, benzodiazepines, or a short course of corticosteroids help relieve their dizziness and vertigo.

Physical Therapy

If moving your head brings on dizziness or causes you to experience vertigo, it might be time to work with a physical therapist. Physical therapists can help you build up a tolerance to having your head in the positions that make you feel ill, lessening or even eliminating these unpleasant sensations. Vestibular rehabilitation therapy — which might include vision-stability training, balance retraining, and other exercises — can also help reduce dizziness or vertigo in MS.

You Are Not Alone

You are never alone with your multiple sclerosis. On MyMSTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with multiple sclerosis, more than 165,000 members talk about a range of personal experiences and struggles. Dizziness and vertigo are some of the most discussed topics.

Have you experienced dizziness or vertigo with MS? What treatments have or have not worked? Join MyMSTeam today and share your experiences in the comments below or on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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