Can Panic Attacks Cause Vertigo?

It would be difficult to answer the question posed in our title without knowing the difference between dizziness and vertigo. When an individual experiences a panic attack he or she may feel dizzy or slightly unsteady because of the physical changes that take place in the body.

Panic attacks may be accompanied by a feeling that we are going to faint, commonly described by individuals as being “light headed.” Some people who experience a panic attack report that their head is “swimming” or that their whole body feels like it is lighter and even “floating.” All of these can be gathered under the general term of dizziness.

Vertigo, though similar, can be different experience, according to medical research and statements from those who have panic episodes. Vertigo seems to be a more “physical” result. Perhaps it’s a matter of degree. In fact, some medical literature lists vertigo as one type of dizziness. Vertigo usually involves a more extreme feeling of “spinning” that can be so extreme as to cause fear in the individual.

What may separate this from other types of dizziness is that it can occur even when the person is sitting or standing still. Other conditions in this category are those that occur when we stand up too quickly (syncope) and dizziness only when we try to move or walk around (non-vertigo/non-syncope).

In the opinion of some medical experts, vertigo is more specific in that the patient may actually have ear infections or other conditions that truly cause a lack of balance. Some individuals experience vertigo because of internal infections or problems with blood pressure and blood flow. The difference between more common dizziness and real vertigo might lie in the degree of change in blood pressure or blood sugar.

Keep in mind that dizziness is not the illness. It is an indication that something else is taking place to cause a person to feel dizzy. In addition to the serious issues of ear infections and other maladies, low blood pressure and high blood pressure may lead to dizziness. Low levels of blood sugar, extreme stress and even depression may be characterized by dizziness. Many of these physical changes are a common part of panic attacks.

But is the instability and “woozy” feeling during a panic attack really vertigo?Remember that during panic attacks and moments of extreme anxiety, people may breathe too rapidly and hyperventilate. This can cause higher levels of oxygen in the blood. When this reaches the brain we may experience the dizzy feeling that is common with panic episodes.

The bottom line may be that panic attacks and the many physical changes that cause them may indeed lead to serious bouts of vertigo. But it seems that physical changes must occur to a degree that is beyond the light-headed feeling and “woozy” sensation. This may become so extreme that it occurs even when we are safely seated or lying down. Perhaps we could say that the difference between mild dizziness and vertigo is just a matter of degree, so both could result from a panic attack.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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