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The Point Prevalence of Dizziness or Vertigo in Migraine – and Factors That Influence Presentation

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Objective.— To ascertain and characterize the point prevalence of dizziness or vertigo in migraineurs presenting for routine appointments at a specialty headache clinic.

Background.— Migraine, dizziness, and vertigo are all common in the general population, affecting 13%, 20‐30%, and 5‐10% respectively. Thereby, chance concurrence of migraine with either dizziness or vertigo would be expected in roughly 4% of the general population. It is the authors' clinical impression that severe attacks of migraine are far more commonly associated with these complaints than chance would predict.

Methods.— This is a prospective, cross‐sectional study of 462 consecutive patients who presented for consultation at a specialty headache clinic over a 4‐month period of time. During routine check‐in procedures, patients were asked to report their headache pain on a 1‐10 Likert scale. Patients were also asked to report if they were currently experiencing dizziness or vertigo. Responses to these questions were recorded along with vital signs. Diagnosis of migraine with or without aura was made by headache medicine specialists in accordance with International Classification of Headache Disorders – second edition criteria. Chi‐square analysis was used to examine the prevalence of vertigo or dizziness in subjects with varying intensity of headache, and by history of aura.

Results.— Of the 425 evaluable subjects, 28% experienced aura. Subjects' average age was 43.8 years (range 15 to 76 years); 89.5% were female. At the time of evaluation, 72.4% of subjects reported some degree of ongoing headache pain and 15.7% reported concurrent dizziness or vertigo. The prevalence of dizziness or vertigo was twice as high (24.5% vs 12.1%) in migraine with aura compared to migraine without aura (P < .01), and prevalence increased with age (P < .05). There was a strong correlation between migraine pain and subjective complaint of vertigo (P < .001). When migraine pain was present at an intensity of 7 or greater (on a scale of 1‐10), almost half of the subjects (47.5%) reported concomitant dizziness or vertigo.

Conclusions.— Subjective complaints of dizziness or vertigo appear to be relatively common accompaniments of migraine, particularly migraine with aura, and prevalence increases with age. Disequilibrium symptoms have a strong and positive association with the severity of migraine pain. With co‐occurrence higher than expected by chance, the relationship either reflects comorbidity or these symptoms may be part of the migraine presentation. With a point prevalence of 15.7%, and factors that link expression both to the intensity of migraine pain and to migraine aura, the authors believe that the true relationship may prove to be the latter.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: From the Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA (A. Calhoun); Carolina Headache Institute, Chapel Hill, NC, USA (A. Calhoun, S. Ford, A. Pruitt, and K. Fisher); Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA (S. Ford).

Publication date: 2011-10-01

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