Firstly it is important to note that light-headedness is a sensation that makes one feel as if they are about to faint. Generally this sensation dissipates once you lie down and is relatively transient. It can be brought about by getting up too quickly from bed or a lying position, and generally is due to a momentary shift in blood pressure. Light-headedness can be an associated symptom of cold & flu, fever, vomiting & diarrhoea, hyperventilation, stress/anxiety, anaemia, hormonal shifts, hypoglycaemia, hypoxemia, hypotension as well as bleeding (i.e. G.I tract, menstruation).
Vertigo on the other hand implies the sensation of spinning or your surroundings spinning. Anyone who has experienced vertigo will know that it is not a pleasant sensation and if recurrent bouts occur it can be quite terrifying and debilitating. If we look at the possible causes that bring on the sensation of vertigo we find that mostly it seems to involve conditions of the inner ear such as, Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis & vestibular neuritis. However severe migraines can also cause vertigo as well as decreased blood flow via the vertebral and subsequently basilar arteries.
I would like to note that although these ‘textbook’ definitions give clear parameters, in my acupuncture practice I have seen individuals who have experienced a mix of vertigo and light-headedness. Thus ‘dizziness’ is certainly multifactorial and this is no surprise when we keep in mind that balance is the interaction of vision, muscles/joints/sensory nerves, the vestibular system and much more.
To give a clinical example I was treating an individual who was experiencing amongst other signs and symptoms, near fainting spells (pre-syncope) & vertigo (room spinning). She would experience these ‘dizzy spells’ quite often and found them to be quite distressing as they would come on without warning. The focus of my treatment was as always mainly guided by palpatory findings and medical history. Which in her case showed menstrual irregularities, as well as severely tight shoulder and neck (posterior aspect) muscles. Through acupuncture the subsequent regulation of her menstrual cycle as well as the amelioration of the contracted musculature of the shoulder and posterior aspect of the neck greatly reduced her experienced dizziness.
I believe this acupuncture clinical snapshot highlights that for many individuals who suffer from dizziness (light-headedness and/or vertigo) the cause is multifactorial and not necessarily solely to do with an inner ear disorder (although this is most common). This certainly applies to individuals who have undergone the appropriate allopathic examinations/scans that have subsequently ruled out pathology of the inner ear. Furthermore in the above acupuncture clinical example we can hypothesise that the vertigo experienced may have been due to the contracted musculature at the posterior aspect of the neck impeding blood flow via the vertebral arteries at certain moments. Hence the subsequent release of the contracted musculature through acupuncture greatly improved the experienced vertigo. In regards to the light-headedness experienced I believe that the regulation of her menstrual cycle through acupuncture has obviously engaged and shifted her endocrine system to a more balanced state and subsequently in this particular case resulted in the amelioration of the light-headedness experienced.
Acupuncture can play a pivotal role in treating the individual and thus result in the amelioration of the signs and symptoms experienced. I believe there is a reason why so many multi-system causes can be cited as initiating vertigo and light-headedness, and this is because the body is an integrated whole that is much more than the sum of its parts.
Giancarlo Nerini - Licensed Acupuncturist