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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter October 1, 2013

Pain and other symptoms in patients with chronic benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

Wenche Iglebekk, Carsten Tjell and Peter Borenstein


Background and aim

A diagnosis of chronic benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is based on brief attacks of rotatory vertigo and concomitant nystagmus elicited by rapid changes in head position relative to gravity. However, the clinical course of BPPV may vary considerably from a self-limiting to a persisting and/or recurrent disabling problem. The authors’ experience is that the most common complaints of patients with chronic BPPV are nautical vertigo or dizziness with other symptoms including neck pain, headache, widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and visual disturbances. Trauma is believed to be the major cause of BPPV in individuals younger than fifty years. Chronic BPPV is associated with high morbidity. Since these patients often suffer from pain and do not have rotatory vertigo, their symptoms are often attributed to other conditions. The aim of this study was to investigate possible associations between these symptoms and chronic BPPV.


During 2010 a consecutive prospective cohort observational study was performed. Diagnostic criteria: (A) BPPV diagnosis confirmed by the following: (1) a specific history of vertigo/dizziness evoked by acceleration/deceleration, (2) nystagmus in the first position of otolith repositioning maneuvers, and (3) appearing and disappearing nystagmus during the repositioning maneuvers; (B) the disorder has persisted for at least six months. (C) Normal MRI of the cerebrum. Exclusion criteria: (A) Any disorder of the central nervous system (CNS), (B) migraine, (C) active Ménière’s disease, and (D) severe eye disorders. Symptom questionnaire (‘yes or no’ answers during a personal interview) and Dizziness Handicap Inventory (DHI) were used.


We included 69 patients (20 males and 49 females) with a median age of 45 years (range 21-68 years). The median duration of the disease was five years and three months. The video-oculography confirmed BPPV in more than one semicircular canal in all patients. In 15% there was a latency of more than 1 min before nystagmus occurred. The Dizziness Handicap Inventory (DHI) median score was 55.5 (score >60 indicates a risk of fall). Seventy-five percent were on 50-100% sick leave. Eighty-one percent had a history of head or neck trauma. Nineteen percent could not recall any history of trauma. In our cohort, nautical vertigo and dizziness (81%) was far more common than rotatory vertigo (20%). The majority of patients (87%) reported pain as a major symptom: neck pain (87%), headache (75%) and widespread pain (40%). Fatigue (85%), visual disturbances (84%), and decreased concentration ability (81%) were the most frequently reported symptoms. In addition, unexpected findings such as involuntary movements of the extremities, face, neck or torso were found during otolith repositioning maneuvers (12%). We describe one case, as an example, how treatment of his BPPV also resolved his chronic, severe pain condition.


This observational study demonstrates a likely connection between chronic BPPV and the following symptoms: nautical vertigo/dizziness, neck pain, headache, widespread pain, fatigue, visual disturbances, cognitive dysfunctions, nausea, and tinnitus.


Patients with complex pain conditions associated with nautical vertigo and dizziness should be evaluated with the Dizziness Handicap Inventory (DHI)-questionnaire which can identify treatable balance disorders in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain.

DOI of refers to article:

Otoneurology Centre, Post Box 130, N-4702 Vennesla, Norway. Tel.: +47 97 04 22 31 E-mail:

  1. Conflict of interest

    The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Received: 2013-02-15
Revised: 2013-06-07
Accepted: 2013-06-11
Published Online: 2013-10-01
Published in Print: 2013-10-01

© 2013 Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain