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When a migraine patient experiences vertigo, they feel like they are spinning or moving when in fact, they are still. Migraine-related vertigo may also happen along with nausea and vomiting. When vertigo occurs as a migraine symptom, it is called migrainous vertigo or vestibular migraine. Migraine is responsible for more cases of vertigo than any other medical condition. Studies show that about 25 percent to 30 percent of people living with migraine experience vertigo.

In the 2017 In America survey, over 4500 individuals with migraine shared their migraine frequency and migraine symptoms. While head pain is the most commonly experienced migraine symptom, people with chronic migraine experienced vertigo more frequently than people with high-frequency episodic and episodic migraine.

How to tell if you have vertigo or motion sickness

Because vertigo and motion sickness are similar, sometimes it may be difficult to tell which you are experiencing. If your nausea and dizziness get better or go away once you stop moving, then you have motion sickness. If the spinning feelings continue, even when you are being still, then it is considered vertigo.

Migraine and vertigo

A person’s sense of balance is controlled by the inner ear. However, the cause of vertigo in people with migraine hasn’t been proven. One suggestion is that a defect in the calcium channels of the brain and inner ear may be responsible for the migraine pain and the balance issues related to vertigo.

These migraine symptoms can happen along with migraine pain or the migraine dizziness can occur without pain. People with migraine can experience vertigo before, during or after migraine pain. The migraine-associated vertigo can happen with or without movement. Symptoms may last for a few seconds or a few days. The attacks often occur in clusters, starting and stopping for a period of time.

Vertigo with migraine is very common. After vision changes, vertigo is the most frequent symptom reported by people living with migraine who experience migraine with aura. People with migraine are more likely to experience dizziness than those without migraine. These symptoms sometimes strike in childhood with brief vertigo attacks – then as adults many children with these symptoms develop migraine.

Researchers have studied the relationship between migraine and vertigo since the 1800s.

Symptoms of migraine and vertigo

  • Imbalance
  • Dizzy spells
  • Sense of spinning, whirling, tilting, rocking, falling or motion
  • Sensitivity to motion, particularly head movement
  • Visual motion sensitivity, or feeling motion sickness after seeing something move
  • Motion sickness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheaded feeling
  • Pressure or stuffiness in ears

When vertigo is severe, it can cause difficulty standing or walking.

A study of 47 people who experienced migraine with aura found that 32 percent listed vertigo as a symptom.

In a 2004 study of 20 people with migraine who experienced vertigo, almost all of them 19 experienced nausea. The next most common symptom was light sensitivity, also called photophobia, experienced by 14; and head pain was reported by 13.

Community experiences of migraine and vertigo advocates frequently write about their experiences with vertigo and vestibular migraine. When a migraine attack comes in a public place, advocates share the importance of support when dealing with vertigo at work. People with migraine and vertigo also have to face the perception and stigma of why they may look dizzy or off-balanced and how vestibular migraine and anxiety may linked. For many living with migraine, frequency and symptoms can vary and be unpredicatable leading to ever changing and new symptoms including vertigo. Note, it’s important to always discuss any new symptoms with your doctor as they may be unrelated to migraine.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Last reviewed: August 2014
The interrelations of migraine, vertigo and migrainous vertigo, Neurology, Neuhauser, 2001