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Can a Migraine Cause Dizziness?

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Migraine is a neurological condition characterized by intense, often debilitating headaches that can be accompanied by various symptoms. These symptoms range from sensitivity to light and noise to nausea and vomiting. Dizziness is also very commonly reported.

The Connection Between Migraine and Dizziness

Understanding the link between migraine and dizziness is an essential step for those who experience these conditions. A migraine is more than just a headache; they are complex neurological events that can affect various sensory experiences. Dizziness stands out among the array of symptoms due to its impact on a person’s equilibrium and daily activities.

Dizziness in the context of migraine can manifest in several ways. Some individuals may feel light-headed, while others experience a more severe form of dizziness known as vertigo, where the environment seems to whirl around them. It’s not unusual for this symptom to emerge at any stage of a migraine attack. For some, dizziness is a precursor to the headache, signaling its onset. Others may not encounter dizziness until the peak of their headache or as the pain subsides.

Interestingly, dizziness may also present independently of the headache phase. This condition is called vestibular migraine. A vestibular migraine may be diagnosed when someone has a history of migraine and dizziness but does not always experience them simultaneously. This indicates that migraine has a broader scope of influence on the body than just headache pain.

Vestibular System and Migraine

The role of the vestibular system in migraine-related dizziness is central. Located deep within the ear, this complex network of fluid-filled channels is crucial for keeping us upright and orientated in our surroundings. It sends constant signals to the brain about our body’s position in relation to gravity and movement.

When a migraine attack occurs, it can affect how these signals are processed. Researchers believe migraine attacks may cause abnormal electrical activity in the brain, disrupting the expected communication between the brain and the vestibular system. This disruption results in the dizziness, vertigo, and balance problems characteristic of a vestibular migraine.

The exact mechanism behind this disruption is a subject of ongoing research, but it’s clear that the relationship between migraine and the vestibular system is significant. When a migraine affects the vestibular system, it’s not just the sense of balance impacted; other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, and a substantial decrease in one’s ability to perform routine tasks.

This connection is also evidenced by the fact that the dizziness experienced during a migraine can be very similar to dizziness resulting from inner ear conditions. However, unlike those conditions, which may cause persistent dizziness, migraine-induced dizziness tends to come and go with the migraine attacks.

Individuals dealing with this disruptive symptom may find it challenging to describe their experience, as dizziness can be subjective and variable. Further complicating it, no specific tests can definitively link dizziness to migraine. Diagnosis, therefore, largely relies on the patient’s medical history and the exclusion of other causes.

The complexity of this symptom calls for careful consideration in both diagnosis and treatment. Understanding the nuances of how migraine can cause dizziness is a critical step toward developing effective management strategies for those who live with these often debilitating symptoms. The intricate dance between the migraine and the vestibular system requires a nuanced understanding for proper care and relief.

Diagnosing Dizziness Related to Migraine

When diagnosing why someone is experiencing dizziness, doctors look at the issue from several angles, especially if the person has a history of migraine. Many factors can cause dizziness, so it’s essential to determine whether it’s related to migraine or another condition. Here’s how doctors approach the diagnosis process:

Firstly, doctors will discuss their medical history in-depth with the patient. This includes asking about previous episodes of dizziness, the nature of their migraine, and any other symptoms they experience. They’ll want to know if the patient has noticed any particular triggers that seem to bring on the dizziness, such as changes in diet, sleep patterns, stress levels, or specific activities.

Next, the patient’s symptoms are carefully examined. The doctor will ask questions about the dizziness itself: Is it a spinning sensation or more of a faintness? Does it happen before, during, or after the headache? How long does the dizziness last? This helps determine whether the dizziness is likely part of a migraine or possibly due to other reasons like inner ear problems, blood pressure drops, or something else.

In addition to talking through symptoms, doctors may conduct diagnostic tests to get more information. These can include:

  • Hearing exams and balance tests: To see if the inner ear, which controls balance, is functioning correctly.
  • Blood tests: To check for signs of infections, blood disorders, or other conditions that might cause dizziness.
  • Heart rhythm tests: To ensure that the heart is beating regularly and not causing circulation issues that lead to dizziness.
  • Brain scans, such as MRI or CT scans: These are sometimes used to rule out or identify any brain issues like a tumor or stroke that could cause headaches and dizziness.

It’s not always straightforward to connect dizziness to migraine, so excluding other potential causes is a vital step. By ruling out other issues, the doctor can be more confident in diagnosing vestibular migraine or migraine-associated vertigo.

An accurate diagnosis is crucial because it shapes the treatment plan. For example, if dizziness is confirmed as a symptom of migraine, the treatment may involve migraine-specific medication, lifestyle changes to avoid triggers, and possibly therapy to help manage the balance problems. But if dizziness is due to another condition, treating that underlying issue may resolve the dizziness.

It is also important to seek medical attention if dizziness is severe, persistent, or occurs frequently with migraine attacks.

Treatment Options for Migraine-Induced Dizziness

Dealing with dizziness as a result of a migraine can be unsettling and challenging. However, there are effective treatments and practical steps you can take to manage and reduce this symptom.


There are different kinds of medications that doctors may recommend depending on the nature of your migraine and dizziness:

  • Migraine-preventive medications: Some drugs, like beta-blockers or antidepressants, can be prescribed to help reduce the frequency and severity of a migraine, which in turn may decrease the incidence of dizziness.
  • Acute migraine treatments: These are medications you take when you feel a migraine coming on. They include triptans and ergots, which can help abort a migraine if taken early enough.
  • Anti-nausea drugs: Since dizziness can lead to or accompany nausea, medications that counteract nausea can be beneficial.
  • Medications for vertigo: If dizziness is severe, doctors may prescribe drugs specifically to relieve vertigo, which helps stabilize the sensory disturbances that lead to a loss of balance.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions on how to use these medications correctly, as overuse can sometimes lead to more headaches or other side effects.

Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy

For those whose dizziness doesn’t fully respond to medication, vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) can be a game-changer. This type of physical therapy is designed to strengthen the vestibular system and improve balance. It involves exercises that may include head and eye movements, balancing tasks, and walking strategies. VRT is tailored to each person’s specific symptoms and needs.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies

Lifestyle choices play a significant role in managing migraine-related dizziness:

  • Regular sleep patterns: Keeping a consistent sleep schedule helps to prevent migraine.
  • Hydration: Drinking enough water is critical because dehydration can trigger both migraine and dizziness.
  • Stress management: Techniques like mindfulness, yoga, or meditation can reduce stress that may cause migraine.
  • Avoiding triggers: Staying clear of foods, smells, or other factors that provoke migraine can also prevent dizziness symptoms.
  • Dietary adjustments: Some people find that caffeine or certain foods can trigger their symptoms, so dietary adjustments might be needed.

Home remedies can also be quite effective. Ginger, for example, has properties that can alleviate nausea. Drinking ginger tea or even smelling fresh ginger during a migraine attack can make a difference.

Coping Strategies and Support

Living with migraine and dizziness can be taxing, but several coping strategies can make these conditions more manageable:

  • Keep a symptom diary: Tracking when your migraine and dizziness occur and any triggers can help identify patterns and effective treatments.
  • Relaxation techniques: Activities like deep-breathing exercises can calm the nervous system and may reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
  • Support networks: Joining a support group (Like The Mighty) can connect you with others who understand what you’re going through and can provide advice and support.

It’s worth noting that these coping strategies aren’t just about managing symptoms — they’re about taking control of your health and improving your daily life. When dealing with a condition like migraine, which can be unpredictable and invisible to others, having a supportive community and reliable management strategies is crucial.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do during a migraine attack with dizziness?

Resting in a quiet, dark room and using any prescribed treatment strategies is best. Contact a health care provider if you’re experiencing new or severe dizziness.

Can dizziness occur even when the headache is not present?

Yes, in vestibular migraine, dizziness may occur without the headache.

Are there any specific diets recommended for migraine with dizziness?

While no one diet fits all, a balanced diet with regular meals is recommended, and some may benefit from identifying and avoiding dietary triggers.

How long can dizziness from a migraine last?

Dizziness can last from a few minutes to several hours and, in some cases, may persist even after the migraine headache has resolved.

Can children experience dizziness during a migraine?

Yes, children can also experience dizziness during a migraine. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, it’s essential to consult a pediatrician or a headache specialist for appropriate diagnosis and management.

Is there a way to predict when dizziness will occur with a migraine?

Unfortunately, predicting when dizziness will occur isn’t always possible. However, keeping a detailed diary of migraine and associated symptoms can sometimes help identify patterns or triggers that precede dizziness.

Can changes in weather cause a migraine with dizziness?

Some people report that weather changes can trigger their migraine with dizziness. Barometric pressure changes, temperature fluctuations, and humidity can potentially contribute to the onset of migrainous episodes and associated dizziness.

Is a migraine with dizziness a sign of something more serious?

Migraine with dizziness is commonly a part of the migraine disorder itself. However, if dizziness is new, has changed, or is exceptionally severe, it’s important to rule out other causes, which can sometimes be serious. A health care provider can help determine the cause of these symptoms.

Can exercise help prevent migraine with dizziness?

Regular, moderate exercise may help in the overall management of migraine. It’s beneficial for stress reduction and maintains good cardiovascular health, which can, in turn, help to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine and related dizziness. However, some individuals may find that intense exercise can trigger migraine, so it’s important to establish a balanced routine.

Getty image by Tunatura

Originally published: November 10, 2023
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