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Vestibular Migraine Linked to Increased Anxiety, Say Researchers

The link between anxiety and migraine disease is well established. Those of us with migraine experience anxiety disorders at two to five times the rate of people without migraine, and about 50% of us live with comorbid anxiety. Those of us whose symptoms include vertigo, however, may be the most affected, according to new research.

A study released in March compared 35 participants with confirmed Vestibular Migraine, 31 participants with migraine without symptoms of vertigo, and 32 volunteer controls with no history of migraine. Using a variety of assessments, the researchers measured each participant’s levels of anxiety, panic, and depression. There were no significant differences between the participants in terms of age or education, and no significant difference in headache duration between the two migraine groups.

Anxiety and agoraphobia

However, there were significant differences in anxiety levels. According to the study, the Vestibular Migraine participants experienced significantly higher levels of anxiety and agoraphobia than either of the other two groups. Symptoms of vertigo also were linked with more severe headaches.

Granted, this was only one study, and one with a small sample size at that. However, as someone who regularly experiences severe, disabling vertigo, this makes sense to me. I live in Texas, where a car is needed to go just about anywhere. I rarely leave my house without experiencing some level of anxiety about suddenly becoming too sick to drive back home.

Coping mechanisms

I also get anxious about professional outings. Am I going to stumble or fall over during a meeting? Will I crash into the wall or a table? Is a client or boss going to think I’m drunk?

I’ve coped with my anxiety by taking advantage of home delivery services, including fresh meat from a butcher, fresh vegetables from a local farm, and boxed items and household goods from Amazon Prime. My teenage daughter takes the bus to and from school, and my husband picks up my son from preschool whenever his work schedule allows. I also avoid in-person meetings as much as possible, preferring to use Skype, Facebook, Google Hangouts, or Uber conference calls.

Still, I can’t avoid leaving the house entirely, nor would I want to do so. I love being outside. I love interacting with people and exploring new places. Due to my vertigo, and the anxiety surrounding it, however, I do these things rarely and generally only if I have a backup driver.

Complementary and alternative medicine options

I often think of relocating somewhere with better public transportation options so I could feel freer to leave the house (and safer when I did.) Unfortunately, that is not an option for my family at this time, so I wait and I use the methods available to me to cope with both my chronic migraine and its associated symptom of vertigo.

I meditate. I practice yoga and cognitive behavioral therapy. I see a psychiatrist in addition to my neurologist and my pain management doctor, and I approach falls, tumbles, and crashes with as much humor as possible.

I think that’s all any of us can do. And, thanks to this study, I now feel just a little less alone. I hope others with vertigo do as well.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Macbeck
    8 months ago

    As one who suffers from Vestibular Migraine, among many other types, I am so very glad to see this study. Yes, it was a small study, but to have the anxiety over leaving the house (where I am never more than a step or two from something to grab on to) validated helps immensely. I no longer drive due to vestibular and optical symptoms – can you imagine driving down the road and feel like the car is suddenly rolling or spinning, or seeing 3 traffic lights stacked tightly on top of each other? It’s so important to get these studies out there. Now that I’m disabled, I feel part of my “job” is educating others. Thank you for helping me do so.

  • Theresa
    8 months ago

    I have been known to pass out from the pain. Often I would get sick when driving and fear not being able to get home. I passed out at the wheel one day and ended up in a corn field.
    If I don’t feel well, I’m staying home. I’m a danger to myself and others.

  • Peggy Artman moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi Theresa,
    Thanks for reaching out to us. I think you are correct in deciding not to drive with your current symptoms. Severe migraine attacks can cause a lot of disabling symptoms. That must be so frustrating!

    I would encourage you to see your doctor as soon as possible because there may be treatments that could help you.
    ~ Peggy

  • JLAM
    1 year ago

    This angers me. Labeling as psychopathology the realistic reactions to extreme vertigo, and responsible adult precautions for going out is prejudice. Women are most often called these names. Treatment for psychiatric conditions are neither effective nor proper to deal with symptoms of migraine. Being btanded in psychiatric terms makes it far worse, and interferes with getting MEDICAL CARE.

  • Macbeck
    8 months ago

    I believe what the author is pointing out that is a multi-disciplinary approach works for her. Anxiety (like ADD or depression for example) is technically a psychiatric condition. In my case, my primary provider is able to meet my needs for both my depression and anxiety.
    Counseling, or cognitive behavioral therapy, can and does help many people, especially those of us with life-altering illness. However not everyone will feel the need to reach out for counseling.
    As we know, every one of us reacts differently to our illnesses/disease, and we each have our own spectrum within the vast umbrella of Migraine.

  • DawnW3296
    2 years ago

    Ahh yes. My kingdom for a world without the Vestibular Migraine. I never had more than menstrual headaches my first 37 years on Earth. Then one day BAM! Vestibular migraine, which triggered what was eventually diagnosed as Perpsistent Postural-Perceptive Dizziness and a Functional Gait Disorder. I don’t have vertigo every single day, but after 3.5 years, I have Daily Persistent Headache, Atypical migraines, Vestibular Migraines, and bouts of lightheadedness, dizziness, and walk like a drunken sailor. I, too, am now disabled status, unable to work, use home deliveries as I can afford them, and friends/family help often. I have a rolling walker for the really bad days, and a cane for daily use outside the home. I approach things with as much humor as possible, and don’t pick up babies anymore 🙁 I live alone with my dog, my room darkening curtains, and muted volume. Anxiety-wise, not having to try working, using my assistive device, having supportive friends/family, a safe home, a companion dog, and as many home-deliveries as possible has helped immensely. I’m sure the medication I take, years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and physical therapy for strength, posture, and massage plus meditation techniques have all led to reduced anxiety as well. But the onset of the misinformation that I’m falling, spinning, or tipping still makes my heart speed up and my muscles to tense… no matter how much I try to stop it.

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Dawn. I’m sorry you’re experiencing these symptoms, but I applaud your perspective. Cognitive behavioral therapy has helped me tremendously, too. And our pets can be great sources of comfort. Thank you for sharing your story, and I wish you a happy holiday season.

  • Macbeck
    3 years ago

    I also experience the questionable fun of Vestibular Migraine. They contributed to my total disability and even the sale of my car. I live in a small town about 7 miles from a city. My neighbors are such a blessing as they give me rides to wherever I need to go, and usually at the time I ask. My apartment is small and there’s always something for me to grab onto, and I also now have a cane that I use whenever I go to Dr appointments and anywhere I know there’s an elevator. If I’m having a “bad day” I’ll use it around my neighborhood as well.

    Anxiety? Yup, but I think I deal with it fairly well. Having the plans in place and NOT having the pressure of having to go to work has helped immensely. Thanks for the great article.

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m with you; having a plan always make me feel less anxious. I’m glad you have such nice neighbors! What a blessing. 🙂

  • katdan1026
    3 years ago

    Wow, finally someone else who has the same condition I have been diagnosed with! I was beginning to think I was the only one. Either that or my neurologist made it up. I have chronic episodic vertigo episodes and live with the constant anxiety of never knowing when the next one is going to hit. I am afraid to drive anywhere except close to home, and I’ve even considered getting a medic-alert bracelet that says ” I’m not drunk, I have a neurological condition”. It’s isolating and sometimes embarrassing, like the time I had an “episode” at work and had to be carried by my co-workers to an empty room to lay down because I couldn’t see or walk. But I’m sure you’re like me, you just make the best of the good days and endure the bad ones.

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    3 years ago

    The vertigo can be so isolating and frustrating. I’m sorry you’re struggling with it, but I’m glad you’ve found comfort in knowing you’re not alone. I get that comfort on this site all the time! As Marcia said, I have written some other articles on vertigo as well that you might find helpful. Like you, I just make the best of the good days and work around the bad ones. Warm wishes!

  • Marcia Kavulich moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Katdan1026! Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing with us! Sarah’s stories and what she has written about her experience with vestibular migraine are wonderful and we hope that it makes people feel less alone. I thought you may be interested in two of her other articles if you haven’t seen them yet:

    Thank you for being a part of our community.

    Marcia ( Team)

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