MS & Vertigo: My Experience
If there is one thing I’ve learned about Multiple Sclerosis over the years, it’s that its symptoms are wide-ranging. The many different ways in which the disease can affect our bodies are even more numerous than I realized when I was diagnosed some two decades ago. This was particularly evident in one my early exacerbations (relapses) when I was suddenly stricken with severe vertigo. Much more than simple dizziness, I was overcome with a sensation that the world around me was spinning and wouldn’t stop. My balance also seemed non-existent during this time. I learned first hand how real and how awful the symptom of vertigo can be.
My experience with vertigo had a lasting impression on me. I vividly remember the moments that I began experiencing the exacerbation. It was a beautiful spring day, and I had walked a couple blocks from my office to join my girlfriend (at the time) for lunch in Philly’s Rittenhouse Square. As soon as I arrived, she could tell I wasn’t quite right. I tried to go on as normal, but by the midway part of our lunch, I felt like the entire world was swirling around me. I also felt like the ground beneath my feet was rushing up at me, like a large wave crashing on a shore. I’d occasionally, and instinctively, both brace myself and try to move out of the way of my surroundings that were, in reality, perfectly still. The rest of the day, quite literally, seemed like a blur. She had to help me back to my apartment and inform my work that I wouldn’t be back. I would eventually make it to see my doctor who confirmed, even without an MRI, that this was indeed related to MS.
All of the basics of life were affected
This exacerbation went on to last several difficult weeks before I started to feel somewhat normal. Not only could I not work, but every single aspect of my life was affected. I dropped weight as I had trouble eating due to nausea. I’d crawl along the floor to get to the bathroom because I could not balance enough to stand and walk (a few times, I even just pulled my pants down and urinated right off the bed because I knew I couldn’t possibly make it to the bathroom without injuring myself). All of the basics of life were affected by vertigo and made even more difficult because I lived alone and was stubborn about accepting help. I would basically lay with my eyes closed, eventually on the floor, because it felt the most secure. I’d just try to stay as still as possible.
Certain triggers lead to vertigo
Eventually, I recovered from this exacerbation, mostly anyway. There was still damage done. Nowadays, if I get too overheated or too stressed, I’ll experience some vertigo. Oddly enough, I will most often experience a bad bout of vertigo when I am startled. It seems to be the default consequence for me any time I experience sensory overload. While it mostly requires some sort of trigger for me to experience it these days, there are many others with MS that deal with it on a much more frequent basis. My heart goes out to them, because it is truly a terrible symptom.
More about vertigo
Like most symptoms of MS, vertigo is usually caused by lesions in the brain. The myelin on the vital pathways that help coordinate visual and spatial input or even balance and acoustic processes is damaged, and so the signals being sent and received by the brain are not able to move the way they should. Vertigo because of MS can include balance issues, dizziness, motion sickness, nausea, lightheadedness, and spinning sensations. Motion sickness medication, like Dramamine, is often tried but isn’t always effective. If it comes on suddenly and seems to be a sign of a relapse, steroids may be needed. Like any symptom, it’s important to talk to your MS specialist about it and see what they recommend.
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