Vertigo, from the Latin word for “a whirling or spinning movement,” is a type of dizziness where one experiences a feeling of motion, usually as if they or the room is spinning. While many of us have had the occasional dizzy spell, vertigo is different with its persistent sense of motion, a feeling of tilting, swaying, or spinning, possibly with loss of balance. It is disorienting, disconcerting and uncomfortable, and often accompanied by sweating, vomiting and nausea.

Most cases of vertigo occur when you suddenly change your head position, or stand up quickly. This is often due to a problem based in the inner ear, known as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, benign because there are no additional serious conditions, such as a tumor. It can also be caused by vision difficulties, diseases of the central nervous system, inflammation or infections that compromise the inner ear, Meniere’s Disease, which is a buildup of fluid in the inner ear or migraines.

Western medicine treats vertigo in a variety of ways, depending on the diagnosed cause. Therapies may include, but are not limited to, vestibular rehabilitation; medication to relieve symptoms such as nausea or motion sickness; antibiotics or steroids to reduce swelling and cure infection; and even surgery.

As with a western doctor, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the most important step is to determine the cause of the vertigo. In TCM pulse and tongue diagnosis in conjunction with other diagnostic techniques are used to discern the clinical origin, which will determine the proper treatments. Chinese medicine believes that vertigo’s origin is related to the imbalance of certain internal organs, such as the liver, kidneys and spleen. It is the imbalance between these internal organs that leads to poor blood circulation and insufficient blood supply to the brain that result in vertigo.

According to TCM, the causes are either excess or deficient conditions. Excess conditions include phlegm damp retention and insufficient spleen Qi, which is evidenced by a sensation of heaviness, lethargy, fullness of the chest or epigastric region, nausea, vomiting, profuse sputum, and loss of appetite; and what is known as liver fire rising with stagnating Qi, where the patient will have a flushed face, headaches, feel frustrated and agitated, have insomnia, and often a bitter taste in the mouth.

Deficiency conditions include Qi and blood deficiency evidenced by a pale or dull complexion, lassitude, palpitations, and insomnia; and kidney deficiency (deficiency of Kidney jing) commonly encountered in the elderly. The vertigo comes and goes, and does not go away with time. There are other symptoms, such as waist/hip pain, weakened knees, frequent urination at night, tinnitus, deafness, dry mouth and dry skin.

Treatments may include herbs, acupuncture, cupping, and massage. The specifics will be determined by the diagnosis. Patients often experience relief with a few visits, and not uncommonly on the first visit. Sometimes a series of acupuncture sessions and a program of herbal therapy are even more beneficial to remove the underlying causes.

Diane Sheppard is a licensed acupuncturist with a Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine. She is a practitioner at Eisenhower Wellness Institute and owner of AcQPoint Wellness Center in La Quinta. (760) 775.7900

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