What Is Migraine Associated Dizziness?

Migraine is a type of headache that causes intense throbbing or pulsing pain commonly on one side of the head. Other migraine symptoms include sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Since an individual can experience dizziness prior to, during or after a headache episode, the condition is referred to as migraine associated dizziness.

Approximately one-third of individuals who suffer from migraines experience dizziness. Migraine dizziness symptoms can include:

  • A spinning sensation
  • Feeling off-balance or unsteady
  • Vertigo
  • Sensitivity to motion
  • Imbalance
  • Ear fullness
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)

Individuals can also experience migraine dizziness without headache, usually with other migraine symptoms such as visual disturbances, light sensitivity and nausea.

Possible Causes and Risk Factors

Migraine patients who experience migraines with auras or suffer from motion sickness are more likely to be diagnosed with migraine associated dizziness.

The exact causes of this condition remain unclear. Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes vertigo, has been shown to be more common in patients diagnosed with migraine associated dizziness. Additionally, if you’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury in the past, you may be more at risk for suffering from dizziness and migraines.


Migraine Dizziness Treatment

It is important to rule out any other causes of dizziness before moving on to treatment for migraine associated dizziness. In order to diagnose the condition properly, a headache specialist will ask you for specific details about your migraine history, symptoms and dizziness episodes, and will also perform a thorough physical examination. If you suffer from tinnitus, you’ll need to undergo a full diagnostic audiogram and possibly other tests such as electrocochleography and electronystagmography. Ruling out more serious conditions will require an MRI of the brain and the inner ear.

Treatment will begin by avoiding all migraine triggers. You may be asked to keep a symptom diary as part of your treatment plan. Triggers include certain foods, weather changes, insomnia, stress and hormonal fluctuations.

Making dietary changes may be part of your treatment plan. Certain foods known to cause migraines should be avoided and include, among others:

  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Aged cheeses
  • Aged or processed meats
  • Foods containing MSG
  • Artificially sweetened products

If stress is a constant problem in your life, your treatment plan for migraine associated dizziness will most likely include biofeedback and/or massage therapy for relaxation.

Medication used for migraine has been shown to ameliorate or prevent migraine dizziness symptoms. Pharmacologic therapy can include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, triptans and analgesics. Non-sedation anti-nausea medications can be useful and low dose diazepam, benzodiazepine, for bad dizziness attacks or car motion sickness when not driving.  However, use must be limited while doing vestibular therapy.  Preventive medication is especially important in the treatment of migraine associated dizziness. Based on your symptoms, a physician may recommend:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Beta blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Antidepressants

All patients diagnosed with migraine associated dizziness will need to undergo a type of physical and recreational therapy known as vestibular rehabilitation therapy.

Vestibular rehabilitation therapy is a form of exercise-based physical therapy that aims to reduce problems related to dizziness and improve your balance. A physical therapist will teach you specialized exercises to stabilize your gait and your gaze. These exercises will focus on head movements that will stimulate and retrain your vestibular system. Any deficits identified, such as visual stability, balance, and neck motion, will be addressed during your vestibular rehabilitation therapy sessions. By increasing your ability to participate in everyday activities and helping you avoid any injuries due to migraine associated dizziness, these therapy sessions can vastly improve your quality of life.

Migraine Associated Dizziness