How is vertigo diagnosed?

During an evaluation for vertigo, the health care professional may obtain a full history of the events and symptoms. This includes medications that have been taken (even over-the-counter medications), recent illnesses, and prior medical problems (if any). Even seemingly unrelated problems may provide a clue as to the underlying cause of the vertigo.

After the history is obtained, a physical examination is performed. This often involves a full neurologic exam to evaluate brain function and determine whether the vertigo is due to a central or peripheral cause. New symptoms of vertigo should be worked up to rule out stroke as the primary cause. History, physical exam, and imaging as needed are critical to insure any life-threatening conditions are ruled out. Signs of nystagmus (abnormal eye movements) or incoordination can help pinpoint the underlying problem. The Dix-Hallpike test is done to try to recreate symptoms of vertigo; this test involves abruptly repositioning the patient's head and monitoring the symptoms which might then occur. However, not every patient is a good candidate for this type of assessment, and a physician might instead perform a "roll test," during which a patient lies flat and the head is rapidly moved from side to side. Like the Dix-Hallpike test, this may recreate vertigo symptoms and may be quite helpful in determining the underlying cause of the vertigo.

If indicated, some cases of vertigo may require an MRI or CT scan of the brain or inner ears to exclude a structural problem like stroke. If hearing loss is suspected, audiometry may be ordered. Hearing loss is not seen with BPPV or other common causes of vertigo. Electronystagmography, or electrical evaluation of vertigo, can help distinguish between peripheral and central vertigo, but is not routinely performed. Continue Reading

Reviewed on 5/1/2015
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