Skip to Main Content


Vertigo, dizziness and balance-related conditions are among the most common health problems in adults. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults experience vertigo at least once in their lifetime, with women slightly more likely to get it than men. It can occur because of a problem with the body's vestibular system, which includes structures of the inner ear, vestibular nerve, brain stem and cerebellum, a region of the brain that integrates sensory perception, coordination and motor control. This system regulates balance, posture and the body's orientation in space.


Although the cause is unknown in many cases, a number of disorders can cause vertigo, dizziness and imbalance. Those conditions include:

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo(BPPV)

In people with BPPV, head or body movements — particularly when lying in bed or leaning over — can cause a brief vertigo attack that lasts less than one minute. BPPV occurs when microscopic calcium deposits called otoliths are trapped in one of the three semicircular canals that make up the vestibular system. BPPV is the most common cause of vertigo and can be treated effectively.

Meniere's Disease

Meniere's Disease results from an imbalance of fluids in the inner ear, which can cause periods of vertigo lasting from minutes to hours. It's frequently accompanied by fluctuating, low-frequency hearing loss, tinnitus and a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears, known as aural fullness.

Viral and Bacterial Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis results from inflammation within the inner ear, and may cause vertigo attacks lasting from hours to days.

Other Causes

Various neurological conditions can also cause vertigo. These include:

Other, non-neurological causes include:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Hyperventilation
  • Orthostatic hypotension, a sudden decrease in blood pressure when you stand up
  • Psychiatric or emotional problems such as panic attacks and anxiety
  • Use of multiple prescription and non-prescription medications

Our Approach to Vertigo

UCSF offers state-of-the-art evaluation and treatment for vertigo, dizziness and other balance problems. Our team includes specialists in audiology, otolaryngology (ear and throat disorders), neurology and physical therapy, who collaborate to identify the cause of an individual’s symptoms and design a plan to address them. Treatment for vertigo depends on the diagnosis and may include medications or surgery, as well as physical therapy to improve stabilization, retrain the brain and relieve symptoms.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.