Links exist between multiple sclerosis (MS) and vertigo, as well as between MS and dizziness. Vertigo and dizziness are not the same thing. While vertigo refers to a spinning sensation, dizziness is a general term that denotes lightheadedness, disorientation, or feeling off-balance.

Both vertigo and dizziness occur in MS when the condition affects the brain stem and cerebellum, which are parts of the brain that play a major role in balance. Vertigo may sometimes result from other causes, such as inner ear conditions or medication side effects.

In chronic or long-term cases, doctors may treat vertigo with anti-nausea or motion sickness medications. Management strategies to promote safety are also necessary to help prevent injuries.

This article discusses whether MS causes vertigo and how it causes dizziness. It also examines symptoms and treatment of MS-induced vertigo and lists support group resources.

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One of the early symptoms of MS is constant or intermittent dizziness. In fact, a 2020 study cites older research from 2013, which found that 49–59% of individuals with MS experience dizziness. The 2020 study also adds that 20% of people with MS experience vertigo.

What is MS?

MS is an autoimmune condition. This means the immune system, which typically attacks microbes and unhealthy cells, mistakenly attacks myelin in the central nervous system (CNS), brain, and spinal cord. Myelin is the substance that composes the myelin sheath, a protective coating of nerve fibers. The attacks on myelin can cause damage and scar tissue called plaques or lesions.

The condition is one of the most common neurological disorders that can cause a disability in young adults. The onset of symptoms usually occurs between ages 20 and 40 years.

MS is chronic. In some people, it is mild and causes no disability, while in others, it may cause increasing disability over time. It is rarely fatal, and most individuals have a typical life expectancy.

Learn more about MS.

Dizziness and vertigo usually stem from the development of a new lesion or the growth of an existing lesion on the brain stem or cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls balance, while the brain stem sends and receives messages to parts of the body that affect balance.

Sometimes, a person with MS may also have dizziness and vertigo due to other causes, which may include:

Episodes of vertigo from MS typically can last from a few seconds to minutes. The onset may occur without warning. Symptoms may include:

Learn more about vertigo.

For chronic vertigo, a doctor may prescribe one of the following:

  • meclizine, a medication for dizziness and nausea due to motion sickness, which is available under the following brand names:
    • Antivert
    • Dramamine Less Drowsy
    • Bonine
    • Bonine Max
    • Dramamine Nausea Long Lasting
    • Travel-Ease
    • Medivert
    • Dramamine II
    • Driminate II
    • D-Vert
    • Meclicot
    • Ru-Vert-M
    • Meni-D
    • VertiCalm
  • ondansetron (Zofran, Zofran ODT, Zuplenz), a medication for nausea
  • diazepam (Valium), a medication for anxiety

When vertigo occurs, a person is at risk of falls and injuries, so management strategies are important. To help promote safety, a person can try:

  • sitting until the symptoms go away
  • avoiding stairs
  • refraining from moving the head or changing body positions
  • not driving until it is clear that the vertigo has passed
  • dimming bright lights and not reading
  • being cautious and beginning to move slowly after the vertigo appears to have passed

If vertigo happens at night, sit up straight and turn on soft lighting. Stay still until it passes.

Other strategies to reduce the risk of an injury include:

  • installing handrails and grab bars
  • removing tripping hazards, particularly throw rugs
  • using a walker or cane
  • using a shower chair

Additionally, the following strategies may help minimize symptoms:

  • Physical therapy: This may improve coordination and balance.
  • Exercise: This involves any regular physical activity.
  • Acupressure therapy: This targets pressure points on the body that relate to vertigo.
  • Occupational therapy: This can help someone learn how to move more safely in the home or office, particularly during an attack.
  • Log of episodes: Keeping a log of the times when vertigo occurs can indicate when to schedule daily activities. An individual can plan tasks when attacks are less likely to happen.

Also, following a nutritious diet may help manage many MS symptoms. Maintaining a moderate body weight links to a lower risk of disability and worsening of lesions. This diet may entail:

  • eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables
  • avoiding processed foods and foods with added sugar
  • choosing whole grains — such as brown rice — rather than refined grains
  • preparing meals at home as much as possible

Learn more about home remedies for vertigo.

These include the following:

There is an established relationship between MS and vertigo, as 20% of people with MS experience it. Also, 49–59% of individuals with MS experience dizziness.

Vertigo and dizziness occur when MS lesions affect the brain stem and cerebellum. However, other conditions — such as stroke and migraine — may also cause them.

Symptoms of vertigo may include nausea, lightheadedness, and loss of balance.

Doctors may treat chronic cases with motion sickness medications, such as meclizine. Management strategies to help prevent injuries may include sitting still during an attack until the symptoms go away. Physical therapy to increase balance and occupational therapy to maximize safety may also help.