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Living with a Vestibular Disorder

Sunday, Mar. 19, 2017
Woman experiencing a migraine


People often ask me why I became a physiotherapist. My interest in the field started at a young age, when I was in and out of treatment related to competitive gymnastics. My interest was piqued when my physiotherapists were often able to diagnose problems that my doctors never could.  This is similar to how I became involved in vestibular therapy.

It started in my 8th grade cooking class, when I started feeling nauseous for no identifiable reason. I started yawning repeatedly, having difficulty controlling my movements, and keeping my head up. All of the colour drained from my face, my eyes wouldn't focus, and the room was spinning. After a draining 45 minutes of laying my head on my desk while my partner baked our cake, I leaned over and threw up on the classroom floor. After that, my symptoms progressively decreased over the next few hours as I rested.

The next time I had an episode, I fainted. From that point on, I regularly had episodes with these same symptoms every few months throughout my teenage years and into adulthood. It started to affect my daily life as I was afraid to do basic things, like showering, and I regularly missed class or work. I picked up on various triggers, such as vigorous activity in the morning or standing in warm environments where it was difficult to breath. I saw several doctors and took many of the same cardiac tests, all to no avail. My symptoms were written off by the doctors who wouldn't listen to how I was feeling; they said it was “all in my head” or “just because I was anxious/stressed”, and I was told to “just live with it”.

Eventually, I saw a physiotherapist for my knee and she happened to be trained in vestibular therapy. When she saw my history of fainting and dizziness on the intake forms, she recommended a vestibular assessment. Once she heard my story and took me through proper testing, I finally had an answer! What I had been suffering from and fearing for all these years were vestibular migraines.

I still experience vestibular and visual migraines today, but these episodes are no longer scary or uncontrollable. I can inform my coworkers and professors beforehand and ensure that I have a safe way of handling each episode. If this story sounds familiar to you, or you have any of the signs below, Lifemark can help you with a vestibular assessment.

     Signs of a Vestibular Migraine:

  • Yawning
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Mood changes
  • Gastric symptoms (abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, bowel changes)
  • Dyskinesia (difficulty controlling voluntary movement) or dysphasia (difficulty speaking)
  • Aura (can occur with or without; visual or auditory)
  • Initial symptoms followed by feelings of being “hungover” or “wiped out”

Common Triggers:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Not eating
  • Stress
  • Food (i.e. alcohol, chocolate)
  • Hormonal changes

Treatment involves a combination of dietary and lifestyle modifications, medication, and vestibular rehabilitation. Medication is your doctor’s department, but Lifemark can help with the rest.

Start taking control now! Visit www.lifemarkvestibular.ca today to find out more, and book an appointment with one of our vestibular rehabilitation therapists, available across the country.

Our therapists can help you talk to your healthcare provider about vestibular migraine.

If you would like to learn more about vestibular migraines, please visit the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD) site and scroll below the appendix to Vestibular Migraine at: https://www.ichd-3.org/appendix/a1-migraine/a1-6-episodic-syndromes-that-may-be-associated-with-migraine/a1-6-6-vestibular-migraine/


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