Many people take medications for dizziness and vertigo. They can be very helpful in some situations, but may not be necessary long term for patients who can resolve the cause of their dizziness.
The most important thing for people who feel dizzy is to seek appropriate medical care for assessment and treatment in order to reduce their discomfort, to reduce their risk of falling down, and to discover why they feel dizzy.
Many medications for dizziness today are designed to simply reduce the symptoms of dizziness or vertigo, but not to resolve the underlying cause of the dizziness.
That approach works short term to reduce discomfort and it may be needed long term if the prognosis for recovery is poor. A root cause analysis of the reasons for the dizziness or vertigo is recommended so long term use of medications for dizziness and vertigo can be avoided if possible.
The reason that long term use of medications for dizziness or vertigo is not ideal is because all medications have side effects, and many of them can increase the risk of falling.
Types of Medications for Dizziness and Vertigo
The following discussion focuses on two common types of prescription medications for dizziness and vertigo.
First generation antihistamine: Meclizine
For example, a common medication given for vertigo is meclizine.
This medication has side effects of dizziness, drowsiness, and blurry vision which can cause falls. Also, long term use of meclizine can cause irreversible cognitive impairment, or dementia, due to its effect on brain chemicals.
The harmful potential effects of meclizine are so widely shown in research, that meclizine is included on the BEERS criteria list of medications that should be avoided in older adults regardless of their condition.
Yet it is still prescribed for many older adults.
For more considerations on meclizine, visit my other blog.
Another example of a common group of medications for dizziness and vertigo prescribed are benzodiazepines, with brand names such as Ativan, Xanax or Valium.
Both short-acting and long-acting benzodiazepines are on the BEERS criteria list of medications that should be prescribed with caution to older adults due to the increased risk of falls and hip fractures while on benzodiazepines.
Research has shown that benzodiazepines increase the risk of hip fracture in older adults by 50%.
Yet they are still prescribed for many older adults.
Medications for dizziness and vertigo can reduce anxiety
For my physical therapy patients with overwhelming and debilitating anxiety, I have found that anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, can be helpful for a patient to take before a vertigo assessment or treatment session.
Without taking a benzodiazepine to calm their level of anxiety, some of my patients with severe vertigo would not be able to participate in Vestibular Rehabilitation.
Discuss with your doctor
It is recommended to always take your medications as prescribed by your doctor and never stop taking a prescription drug without your doctor’s supervision.
Certain medications for dizziness and vertigo, like benzodiazepines, may need to be tapered down over time with your doctor’s supervision before you can stop taking them.
Your doctor may be able to switch an existing prescription to “as needed” or PRN, if he or she decides that is best for you.
You can also consult with a Vertigo or Dizziness expert to determine the cause of your symptoms and if your symptoms can be resolved, thereby possibly eliminating the need for long term use of medications.
This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.