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Dizziness Symptom Type Prevalence and Overlap



The traditional approach to dizziness encourages providers to emphasize the type of dizziness. However, symptom types might substantially overlap in individual patients, thus limiting the clinical value of this approach. We aimed to describe the overlap of types of dizziness using a US nationally representative sample.


The 2008 US National Health Interview Survey was examined for prevalence and overlap of types of dizziness. The data were also separately examined among people who otherwise had typical features of traditionally vertigo-based disorders (ie, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and Meniere’s disease). Data analysis also included exploratory factor analysis.


Twelve-month prevalence of problems with dizziness or balance was 14.8%, representing 33.4 million individuals. The mean number of dizziness symptoms was 2.4 (95% confidence interval [CI], 2.3-2.4), with 61.1% reporting more than one type. Of subjects who otherwise had typical features of traditionally vertigo-based disorders, the mean number of dizziness types was 3.1 (95% CI, 3.0-3.3), and only 24.6% (95% CI, 21.0%-28.7%) reported vertigo as the primary type. Exploratory factor analysis found that symptom types loaded onto a single factor without other clinical or demographic variables.


Substantial overlap of dizziness types exists among US adults with dizziness. People otherwise having features of traditionally vertigo-based disorders also typically report multiple dizziness types and do not typically report vertigo as the primary type. Symptom types correlate more strongly with each other than with other clinical or demographic variables. These findings suggest that the traditional emphasis on dizziness types is likely of limited clinical utility.

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-Kevin A. Kerber, MD, MS, Brian C. Callaghan, MD, MS, Steven A. Telian, MD, William J. Meurer, MD, MS, Lesli E. Skolarus, MD, MS, Wendy Carender, MPT, James F. Burke, MD, MS

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

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