It's Not Hitchcock's Vertigo - Vertigo Symptoms and Treatment

Patient Expert

Detective Ferguson climbs tentatively to the top of the step-ladder. Nervous and perspiring, he is completely overwhelmed when he reaches the third step. His fear of heights manifests itself in the form of dizziness and he collapses in a near-faint. Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 classic thriller, "Vertigo," starring James Stewart, uses unique camera angles and imagery to capture the fear of heights as never before.

There is one small problem with that. Vertigo is NOT fear of heights. Until recently, I, along with many other people, drew my knowledge of the subject   from that movie. Just further proof that life does not imitate art.

My personal introduction to vertigo arrived at 3:00 a.m. The house was dark and silent. A wildly spinning room caused me to bolt straight up out of a sound sleep. The bed was lurching, threatening to drop me off the side. I grabbed the sheets in an attempt to hang on. My stomach lurched and I screamed loudly, waking my husband, Jake. Horrified, he turned on the lights to find his wife in a near panic. I had the sensation of being on a carnival ride, spinning and twirling. Intellectually, I knew that the room was not spinning, nor was my bed possessed by demons, but my body was convinced otherwise. Something was terribly wrong

It took what seemed like an eternity for the spinning to slow down to a tolerable level. Jake was on the verge of taking me to the emergency room. Finally, I was able to turn off the light to try to go back to sleep. Within minutes, I was returned to the carnival ride, frightened and nauseated. Until morning's light, this scene played itself out again and again.

On the stroke of 9:00 a.m., we called the doctor, who casually suggested that I had experienced a classic case of vertigo. So that's vertigo!

Over the next several weeks, we went through more of the same. We also did our homework and learned that vertigo

  • is the sensation of extreme movement when there is none
  • is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis
  • often occurs during deep sleep
  • can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of coordination and balance
  • can be dangerous due to falls

There are several ways to combat this problem.

When vertigo strikes during sleep, sit up immediately and turn on the light. This will allow your eyes to signal your brain about its surroundings.

  • Sit with your back straight and your head facing forward, with as little movement as possible. Any head movement will worsen symptoms.
  • Try resting in a comfortable recliner, rather than bed.
  • There are several over-the-counter drugs as well as prescription medications which can alleviate symptoms. Discuss these options with your general physician or neurologist.

By the way, I do have a fear of heights and, even as a child, I hated carnival rides. But even though Hitchcock got it wrong, I still enjoy spending a lazy Sunday afternoon with Jimmy Stewart and his dizzying fear of heights.

Share your story of vertigo and what you do to combat this sometimes frightening experience.