Patricia Griffin Kellicker, BSN
Vertigo is a feeling of movement or spinning when you are still. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) happens when the vertigo is caused by changes in the position of the head. This might include standing after bending down, turning the head in bed, or extending the neck to look up. People with BPPV can often identify which moves cause the most problems.
The inner ear contains tiny crystals. These crystals can sense movement and help you keep your balance. BPPV occurs because of a shift in location of these crystals or the clumping of these crystals. When this happens, your brain gets signals that you are moving when you are really not moving. This causes the feeling of movement.
In some cases, the cause of BPPV is unknown. In others, it may be caused by:
Increasing age increases your chances of getting BPPV.
Symptoms may include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Part of the process will be to eliminate other disorders. Your doctor may recommend tests to help determine the cause of vertigo symptoms. Tests may include:
Many times BPPV can resolve on its own, usually within months of onset. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Your doctor may suggest specific vestibular exercises.
These exercises use a series of eye, head, and body movements to get the body used to moving without dizziness.
You may work with a physical therapist to learn these.
This procedure is done in your doctor’s office. Your doctor will move your head in different positions to try to resettle the tiny crystals. The procedure is sometimes repeated and you may be taught how to do it at home.
Some people with BPPV undergo surgery. During surgery, a piece of wax may be used to plug one area of your ear. This will prevent fluid in your inner ear from moving. Another type of surgery that may be done involves cutting the nerve from the inner ear.
BPPV can't be prevented.
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Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at:
http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/articles/200.html. Updated July 2010. Accessed April 25, 2013.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated January 14, 2013. Accessed April 25, 2013.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals website. Available at:
http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/ear_nose_and_throat_disorders/inner_ear_disorders/benign_paroxysmal_positional_vertigo.html. Updated November 2012. Accessed April 25, 2013.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Vestibular Disorders Association website. Available at:
https://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorders/types-vestibular-disorders/benign-paroxysmal-positional-vertigo. Accessed April 25, 2013.
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Am Fam Physician. 2010;82(4):369.
Last reviewed April 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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