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Migraine and Prevalence of Dizziness and Vertigo

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Dizziness and vertigo are sometimes reported as symptoms of Migraine attacks. Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have been looking at possible symptoms of Migraine and their prevalence. In a recent study, they looked at dizziness and vertigo.

The study:

Study objectives:

"To determine the prevalence of subjective complaints of dizziness or vertigo in Migraineurs attending a specialty headache clinic."1

Study background:

Dizzines and vertigo are not the same thing:

  • Dizziness is a general sense of disequilibrium, of being off-balance.
  • Vertigo is a subtype of dizziness that gives the feeling or illusion of movement.

Migraine, dizziness and vertigo are all common in the general population. Their estimated prevlance:

  • Migraine: 13%
  • dizziness: 20 - 30%
  • vertigo: 5 - 10%

"Chance concurrence of migraine with either dizziness or vertigo would therefore be expected in roughly 4% of the general population. It is the authors’ clinical impression that severe attacks of Migraine are far more commonly associated with complaints of dizziness or vertigo than chance would predict."1

Study methods:

  • Participants were 233 consecutive patients who visited a Migraine clinic for their routine appointments over a two-month period.
  • When checking in for their appointments, patients were asked:
    • to report their Migraine pain on a 1 -10 scale and
    • if they were experiencing dizziness or vertigo at the time.
  • Diagnosis of Migraine without aura or Migraine with aura were made by Migraine and headache specialists using ICHD-II (International Headache Society's International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition).
  • Researchers performed the chi-square test of independence to examine the prevalence of vertigo or dizziness in subjects with varying levels of headache pain intensity. Chi-square was used to examine the percentage vertigo or dizziness by presence of accompanying aura.*

Study results:

  • Of the 233 patients, complete data was available for 196 participants.
  • Of the 196 participants, 182 (92.9%) were migraineurs.
  • At the time of their appointments and evaluation:
    • Over 70% of subjects reported some degree of on-going headache pain,
    • and 28 (15.4%) reported dizziness or vertigo when they checked in for their appointments.
    • Prevalence of dizziness or vertigo was more than two-fold higher in migraine with aura than migraine without aura.
    • Prevalence increased with age.
  • There was a direct correlation between severity of migraine pain and subjective complaint of vertigo.
  • When migraine pain was  at a level of 7 or greater on the 1-10 scale, almost half of the participants (48.1%) reported accompanying dizziness or vertigo.

Study conclusions:

"Subjective complaints of dizziness or vertigo appear to be relatively common accompaniments of migraine, particularly migraine with aura. Prevalence varies directly with the severity of the attack. Further research is needed to characterize this association and its underlying pathophysiology."1

Summary and comments:

The authors' conclusions stated above summarize the findings of this study. Here again, we see the need for more research into the pathophysiology of Migraine -- what goes on in our bodies during a Migraine attack, what exactly causes the various symptoms, and more. As the pathophysiology is better understood, better treatment options can be developed.

Resources and Notes:

1 Calhoun, A.H.; Ford, S. "Prevalence of Dizziness or Vertigo in Migraine." Research Poster Presentation #PO-24. 52nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society. Los Angeles. June, 2010.

2 "AP Statistics Tutorial: Chi-Square Test for Independence."

* The chi-square test is applied when the group being studied has two categorical variables to see if there is a significant association between the two variables.


Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD

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© Teri Robert, 2010. Last updated July 26, 2010



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