Understanding The Link Between Migraines And Dizziness: Causes And Mechanisms

Migraines are complex and often debilitating headaches that affect millions of people worldwide. While they are primarily associated with severe head pain, many migraine sufferers also experience dizziness and vertigo as part of their migraine attacks. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of migraines and dizziness, exploring the causes and mechanisms that connect these two seemingly distinct symptoms.

The Migraine Puzzle

Migraines are a nerve problem that causes people to get painful, throbbing headaches over and over again. Other symptoms that often happen with migraines are feeling sick, throwing up, or being sensitive to light (photophobia) or sound (phonophobia). Researchers have found a number of things that may contribute to headaches, but the exact cause is still not fully known.

The Neurological Basis Of Migraines

Migraines are mainly a neurological disease, and the main reason for them is thought to be abnormal brain activity. Here are some important things to consider:

  • Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD):

A well-known idea says that headaches are caused by something called cortical spreading depression (CSD). CSD is a wave of abnormal electrical activity that sweeps across the brain’s cortex, causing changes in blood flow and resulting in the classic migraine aura – a visual or sensory disturbance that precedes or accompanies some migraine attacks. While not all migraine sufferers experience auras, this phenomenon sheds light on the neurological nature of migraines.

  • Trigeminal Nerve Activation:

The trigeminal nerve, a major cranial nerve responsible for sensation in the face and head, plays a central role in migraines. During a migraine attack, the trigeminal nerve becomes activated and releases inflammatory substances, such as neuropeptides. This activation contributes to the pain and sensitivity experienced during a migraine episode.

  • Serotonin Imbalance:

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and various bodily functions, is also implicated in migraines. Researchers have found that people with migraines may have imbalances in serotonin levels, which can contribute to both the headache and associated symptoms like dizziness.

The Overlapping Pathways Of Dizziness

Dizziness, often described as a sensation of spinning or unsteadiness, can be a bewildering symptom for migraine sufferers. To understand the link between migraines and dizziness, we must examine the pathways in the brain that are shared between these two experiences.

  • Vestibular System:

Our feeling of balance and our ability to find our way around are controlled by the vestibular system. The inner ear is home to this nerve, which tells the brain where the body is and how it is moving. Dizziness and vertigo can happen when this system is thrown off, which can happen during a migraine.

  • Brainstem Involvement:

The brainstem, a critical part of the central nervous system, is implicated in both migraines and dizziness. Abnormalities in brainstem function can contribute to both the headache and vestibular symptoms experienced during a migraine attack.

The Connection: Migraine-Related Dizziness

Now that we’ve explored the separate causes and mechanisms behind migraines and dizziness, it’s time to understand how they intersect. Migraine-related dizziness, often referred to as vestibular migraine or migraine-associated vertigo, is a subtype of migraine in which dizziness and vertigo are prominent features of the attack.

Symptoms Of Migraine-Related Dizziness:

Imbalance: Migraine-related dizziness can make it difficult to maintain balance. People may feel like they are swaying or about to fall.

Nausea And Vomiting: Just like with regular migraines, nausea and vomiting can be part of the overall symptom profile during an episode of migraine-related dizziness.

Visual Disturbances: In some cases, visual disturbances may occur alongside dizziness, including blurred vision or visual aura.

Sensitivity To Motion: Individuals with vestibular migraine may find that their symptoms worsen with head movements or certain positions.

Triggers Of Migraine-Related Dizziness:

Understanding the triggers for migraine-related dizziness is essential for managing the condition effectively. Common triggers include:

Stress: Emotional stress can trigger both migraines and dizziness. Finding stress-reduction techniques can be beneficial.

Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in hormone levels, especially in women during their menstrual cycle, can contribute to migraine-related dizziness.

Dietary Factors: Certain foods and drinks, such as caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners, can trigger migraines and associated dizziness in some individuals.

Environmental Factors: Bright lights, loud noises, and strong odors can be migraine triggers that lead to dizziness.

Diagnosis And Treatment

Diagnosing migraine-related dizziness can be challenging due to the overlap with other conditions. A thorough medical evaluation by South Valley Neurology, often by a neurologist or headache specialist, is necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment Options:

Lifestyle Modifications: Identifying and avoiding triggers is crucial. This may involve dietary changes, stress management techniques, and creating a migraine-friendly environment.

Medications: Depending on how often and how bad the attacks are, a doctor may recommend drugs to treat both the headaches and the dizziness. These can include pain relievers, preventive migraine medications, and vestibular suppressants.

Vestibular Rehabilitation: Physical therapy that focuses on improving balance and reducing dizziness can be beneficial for those with vestibular migraines.

Behavioral Therapy: People can deal with the mental parts of headaches and vertigo with the help of cognitive behavioural therapy and biofeedback methods.


Migraines with dizziness represent a complex and often challenging condition to manage. The causes and mechanisms that underlie both migraines and dizziness are interconnected, with the brain’s intricate neural pathways playing a significant role. Understanding the link between these two symptoms is a critical step toward effective diagnosis and treatment.

If you or someone you know experiences migraines with dizziness, seeking medical attention and working closely with healthcare providers to identify triggers and develop a personalized management plan is essential. With the right approach, many individuals can find relief and regain control over their lives, even in the face of this multifaceted condition.

Spread the love