Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) Overview
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is one of the most common causes of vertigo, the symptom that describes the feeling of intense spinning of the head. BPPV describes the situation where the spinning sensation lasts only a few minutes and often stops by itself. There may be recurrent episodes without any specific reason or cause.
While there are many causes of vertigo, BPPV is the term that is used for vertigo that comes and goes (paroxysmal), without a specific associated illness (benign). It is often a frustrating situation for patients because the episodes are frightening and difficult to predict. However, it is related to the labyrinth system inside the inner ear.
The labyrinth system is located in the inner ear and is responsible for maintaining balance in the body. There are three semicircular canals that contain nerve endings and fluid that tell the body where it is in relation to gravity, acting almost like a gyroscope. Small crystals (cupuloliths) sit on top of nerve stalks and should they fall off, they can cause irritation to the fluid contained within the canals and this can lead to vertigo, the sensation that the head is spinning in relation to the rest of the world. Some researchers also suggest that in addition, some free-floating particles in the labyrinth system exert a force to additionally cause vertigo symptoms.
Many people have experienced the spinning sensation (vertigo) as a child. After spinning around for a period of time and then stopping quickly, there is a sensation that the spinning continues for a few seconds and sometimes the child falls down. This occurs because the fluid in the semicircular canals continues to spin after the head has stopped. This gives the person a sensation of vertigo. This may also happen during or after an amusement park ride and there can be associated nausea and vomiting if the vertigo is severe enough.
Picture of the structures of the ear
Last Reviewed 11/21/2017
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