What are the signs and symptoms of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)?

Updated: Mar 13, 2020
  • Author: John C Li, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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  • The onset of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is typically sudden. Many patients wake up with the condition, noticing the vertigo while trying to sit up suddenly. Thereafter, propensity for positional vertigo may extend for days to weeks, occasionally for months or years. In many, the symptoms periodically resolve and then recur.

  • The severity covers a wide spectrum. In patients with extreme cases, the slightest head movement may be associated with nausea and vomiting. Despite strong nystagmus, other patients seem relatively unfazed.

  • People who have BPPV do not usually feel dizzy all the time. Severe dizziness occurs as attacks triggered by head movements. At rest between episodes, patients usually have few or no symptoms. However, some patients complain of a continual sensation of a "foggy or cloudy" sensorium.

  • Classic BPPV is usually triggered by the sudden action of moving from the erect position to the supine position while angling the head 45° toward the side of the affected ear. Merely being in the provocative position is not enough. The head actually must move to the offending pose. After reaching the provocative position, a lag period of a few seconds occurs before the spell strikes. When BPPV is triggered, patients feel as though they are suddenly thrown into a rolling spin, toppling toward the side of the affected ear. Symptoms start very violently and usually dissipate within 20 or 30 seconds. This sensation is triggered again upon sitting erect; however, the direction of the nystagmus is reversed.

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