Frequently Asked Questions

People have lots of questions when it comes to vestibular migraine– it’s a confusing and relatively unknown condition that requires very specific management strategies. The answers I provide here come from my personal experiences, plus some of the scientific literature I’ve encountered. If you have questions I haven’t answered, please send me a message!

The ‘vestibular’ in ‘vestibular migraine’ refers to the vestibular system. This system is the primary source of sensory information regarding spatial orientation, body position, balance, movement, and coordination. The image below is of the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear, which sends signals about your body’s position in space to your brain through the vestibular nerve. The three semicircular canals sense movement of the head in the up-down, left-right, and front-back directions.

vestibular system
Figure: © 2015 San Antonio Busy Bodies

The signals from the inner ear, along with signals from the sense of touch and vision, enter the brain and result in spatial understanding. If there is a problem anywhere in the system– in the semicircular canals, the vestibular nerve, the corresponding brain areas– then dizziness and balance disturbance can occur.

vestibular system VEDA
Figure: © 2008 Vestibular Disorders Assocation

Vestibular migraines occur in the vestibular system and can cause vertigo, dizziness, balance disturbance, disequilibrium, and motion sensitivity, in the presence or absence of headache. As a disorder, vestibular migraine is extremely common. An estimated 1-3% of people suffer from migrainous vertigo, which is widely accepted as the second most common cause of spontaneous episodic vertigo 6,1. 1%– that’s approximately 3 million people! Even with these staggering statistics, vestibular migraine is still dramatically under-diagnosed.

Personally, I have never experienced a migraine headache.  Many people with vestibular migraine do not experience migraine headaches. There is, however, a subgroup of migraine headache suffers who experience migraine associated vertigo (MAV).

Not every migraine headache causes intense pain. There is a form of migraine headache that is often misinterpreted by patients as a sinus headache. In one study entitled “Sinus, Allergy and Migraine Study,” scientists revealed that 86% of the study patients diagnosed with sinus headache were actually suffering from undiagnosed migraines. In contrast to a stereotypical migraine headache, I often experience this ‘sinus headache’ migraine.

My road to finding a diagnosis was long and arduous– something that I hope to be able to change for other vestibular migraine suffers by raising awareness. If you’d like to read the full story, click here.
Unfortunately, there is no test that can prove the presence or absence of migraine headaches. Instead, your doctor will need to rule out a number of other medical conditions before coming to the migraine disorder diagnosis.

For my take on the vestibular migraine diagnosis, read my answer to the question ‘How do you know for sure that you have vestibular migraine?’

Personally, when I was first labeled with vestibular migraine, I felt unsure about whether or not I finally had the answer. Once I started to pay close attention to my symptoms in the context of triggers like dehydration, fasting, sleep disturbance, stress, menstruation, etc., and the classic migraine features I was experiencing such as sound, light, and motion sensitivity, I became much more secure in the diagnosis. Now, there is no doubt in my mind; the treatment for vestibular migraine has helped me immensely.
For some people, yes. Vestibular Migraine includes a large variety of symptoms, which you can read about here. Personally, I experience  a constant feeling that I’m on a boat or turbulent airplane (constantly rocking/moving), with bouts that are more dramatic where the room feels as though it is spinning, flipping, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m floating or completely disconnected from the world around me (spatial detachment), or like the ground will suddenly fall out from beneath my feet. For more about my personal symptom list, click here.