What Is Migraine Associated Vertigo?

Migraine associated vertigo is also known as vestibular migraine. This condition is a type of migraine that occurs with dizziness and vertigo. It’s possible for individuals to experience migraine associated vertigo without headache; this is actually a common variant of the condition.

Vertigo is a condition in which the patient has an illusion of the environment moving or of himself or herself moving through the environment. Up to 70 percent of patients with dizziness also report vertigo.


Migraine associated vertigo symptoms include:

  • Unsteadiness
  • Dizziness
  • Imbalance
  • Sensitivity to motion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Light sensitivity, also known as photophobia

In the worst cases, patients are subject to nausea and vomiting, loss of balance, lack of muscle coordination, confusion and anxiety. These symptoms can occur before the onset of a headache, while the headache is happening and even during a headache-free period.

Symptoms can be triggered by visual stimuli or head motions, or they can simply occur spontaneously without any noticeable cause. They can last for just a few minutes or can persist for weeks or even months, but most patients experience them for at least 24 hours before they subside.

Diagnosing Migraine Associated Vertigo

Diagnosing migraine associated vertigo often includes investigating a patient’s family history of migraines as well as his or her own history. Individuals with this condition often have a family history of migraines. Many patients have a history of motion sickness dating back to childhood that includes intolerance to auto, boat and plane travel. The diagnosis can include taking a thorough headache history, doing an ear examination, vestibular testing and a neurological examination. If the history and test results aren’t clear, diagnosis can be made by observing the patient’s response to migraine associated vertigo treatment.

Migraine Associated Vertigo Treatment

A holistic approach works best on this condition, using a multifaceted treatment program. Medication for migraine associated vertigo can include calcium channel blockers, beta blockers or anti-epileptics. It may also include the elimination of birth control pills or estrogen replacement products.

Your doctor will advise you about a migraine associated vertigo diet, which will include strategies to even out food and fluid intake throughout the day, avoiding foods with high sugar, salt and caffeine levels, limiting alcohol and drinking adequate levels of water and other fluids daily. Avoiding foods that are traditional migraine triggers, such as chocolate, cheese and red wine, can be effective and should be among the first solutions to try.

You may also find relief from acupuncture for pain, psychological treatment for anxiety and recreational or physical therapy to find coping mechanisms. For patients with long-term cases of this kind of vertigo, vestibular rehabilitation is often an effective form of treatment. This consists of a personalized set of exercises designed to help the patient cope with the symptoms of the condition.

  • Habituation exercises are used to treat dizziness caused by movement of the body or the head. It’s a way to train the brain to ignore the abnormal signals coming from the inner ear.
  • Gaze stabilization exercises help improve control of eye movements for patients who report their vision jumping around when they move.
  • Balance training exercises improve steadiness so patients can live and work a more normal life.

Vestibular rehabilitation therapy is usually done on an outpatient basis. Like any other type of physical therapy, it can be challenging and frustrating before patients see improvement. It’s important for patients to educate themselves about their migraine associated vertigo symptoms and treatment so they know what to expect and can aid in their own care.

Migraine Associated Vertigo