People who suffer bouts of vertigo and dizziness may be suffering from a type of migraine for which treatments rarely work.
But a new, preliminary study of 18 such patients found that stimulating the vagus nerve in the neck can help relieve vertigo.
“Vestibular migraine can occur with or without headache. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, an abnormal sense of motion. A lot of people say that they feel like they’re spinning,” explained Dr. Deena Kuruvilla, an assistant professor of neurology at Yale University.
Patients feel like they’re off balance and may be nauseous. “It’s an incredibly disabling disorder,” said Kuruvilla, who was not involved in the study.
It’s a tricky condition to diagnose, she added. “Nine times out of 10, patients get misdiagnosed,” so people are best off seeing a neurologist or a headache specialist, Kuruvilla said.
However, the new treatment might help ease the condition, the authors of the new study said.
“Noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation that’s approved for migraines and cluster headaches also relieves vertigo in patients with vestibular migraine,” said lead researcher Dr. Shin Beh. He’s an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas.
Stimulating the vagus nerve appears to calm down centers in the brain that cause migraine and vertigo, he explained.
Vestibular migraine is not curable, Beh said, “but this adds another possible treatment.”
The stimulation is delivered via a handheld device placed against the neck during a vestibular migraine attack. The device that delivers electrical impulses to the nerve is regularly used to treat typical migraines.
Among the study participants, 14 patients were treated during a vestibular migraine attack, and four patients were treated for persistent dizziness between attacks.
After the nerve stimulation, 13 of the 14 patients had an improvement in their vertigo. In this group, two had their vertigo disappear and five experienced a 50% reduction in symptoms, the researchers found.
In addition, the five patients whose attack had an associated headache all reported less pain after the treatment.