What is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or BPPV?

In a previous blog found here I outlined how improving neck function and pain with Physiotherapy can help dizziness or vertigo.

The body also has other organs and systems that contribute to the information the brain receives about your balance. One of these resides in the inner ear. When this apparatus is not working as well as it should, it can lead to the condition Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo.

This is the most common reason people visit Australian GPs and Physiotherapists with dizziness, or a sensation the world is spinning around them. Doctors refer to this illusion of spinning, either of the patient or the world around them, as vertigo.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo is one of several causes of vertigo. It is also the most common.

But what do these words mean?

When a medical diagnosis is considered ‘Benign’ it means it is not serious or dangerous. Whilst BPPV feels unpleasant, it is not inherently dangerous or serious.

‘Paroxysmal’ is used to describe symptoms that appear suddenly, last a short amount of time and then disappear just as quickly. Vertigo as a result of BPPV usually lasts no more than 30-60 seconds.  There can be a lingering feeling of nausea or unsteadiness, but the spinning sensation usually doesn’t last more than a minute.

‘Positional’, in the context of BPPV, means the symptoms are often related to a change in the position of your head. Often there is a lag of a few seconds between the movement of your head and the beginning of the vertigo.

‘Vertigo’, as mentioned above, is the illusion that you or your environment is spinning.

To summarise, BPPV stands for a condition that is; not serious or dangerous, comes in short and temporary bursts that coincide with movements of the head, and that causes you to feel as if you are spinning.

These bursts of sudden vertigo can feel unpleasant and scary, especially at first. The good news is that, in the majority of cases, BPPV can be reliably diagnosed and treated quickly. In most cases when faced with these symptoms people will visit their GPs and often, and understandably, attend the emergency department. Seeking medical assessment when you have a sudden onset of vertigo is a good idea, especially if you also experience symptoms such as headache, nausea, and weakness in one or more limbs or slurred speech.

Once a diagnosis of BPPV has been made (by a doctor or Physiotherapist trained in it’s treatment) it can be relieved quickly and, in most cases, abolished.

What causes BPPV and how is treated?

In brief, BPPV is caused by tiny calcium carbonate crystals that normally reside in one part of your inner ear, but find their way into another part where they shouldn’t be. Treatment moves them from where they shouldn’t be, back to where they should be!

This involves safe and gentle movements of the head to move the crystals back to where they came from. Once this is accomplished the symptoms should cease almost immediately.

So, to sum up, if you begin to experience sudden bouts of spinning sensations seek assessment and advice from your doctor. If a diagnosis of BPPV is made then the next step is to contact Physiotas to make an appointment with myself (Gareth Bell) for further treatment and advice.

About the Author:

Gareth Bell is a Director and Physiotherapist at Physiotas. Gareth works at our Physiotas clinic in Ulverstone.

Gareth is a Director of Physiotas. He graduated with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours) from the University of Nottingham (UK) in 1997. After spending almost a year backpacking around Australia he and his wife Jo emigrated to Tasmania in 2002.

Gareth opened the current Physiotas practice in Ulverstone in Feb 2013.

Gareth recently gained a Graduate Certificate in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy from La Trobe University. He is currently training to be an accredited practitioner of the Dr Dean Watson headache treatment approach. His professional interests include neck pain and headache assessment and treatment, treatment of vertigo and dizziness, spinal pain, knee rehabilitation and dry needling.

His personal interests revolve around family life in one of the most wonderful places in the world – North West Tasmania! He enjoys playing the guitar and practicing his main hobby – magic!