Dizziness and Vertigo
Dizziness includes feeling light-headed or off-balance, whilst the term vertigo refers to a particular kind of dizziness in which you have the sensation that the world is spinning around you or that you yourself are spinning. These symptoms may be mild, such as the slight light-headedness some people experience on standing up quickly, or they may be severe; severe vertigo may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
Conventional treatment for dizziness or vertigo depends on what is thought to be the cause of the problem; this can be a problem in the inner ear, as in Benign Positional Vertigo (BPV) and Meniere’s disease, stress or anxiety, cervical spine problems, low blood sugar levels (as in diabetes), or a number of other causes.
Dizziness and TCM
The Chinese Medical approach to dizziness first of all differentiates two basic types of the problem: a mild dizziness which may be worse after exertion is usually due to a deficiency, whereas a more severe dizziness such as may make standing up impossible and may be accompanied by nausea or headache suggests the opposite; what is termed an excess condition.
In the former case, it is a matter of determining what is lacking; dizziness in women, for instance, is often a sign of Blood deficiency, which in TCM is a broader category than anaemia. As well as dizziness, Blood deficiency can cause symptoms such as blurred vision, tiredness and a pale complexion. Its treatment partly depends on understanding why the deficiency has arisen; if it is due to a weakness in the digestive system, for instance, such that nutrients are not absorbed so well, acupuncture will be used to strengthen the digestion, and advice may be given on adjustments to the diet to help nourish the Blood.
An excess type dizziness may involve an up rushing of Qi into the head. Qi is a Chinese term difficult to translate, but here it may be thought of as the energy which is moving through any living being. Qi should flow smoothly and evenly around the body, but in some situations, for example when we are particularly tense or uptight, the Qi becomes stuck or blocked and eventually escapes upwards, throwing us quite literally off balance. This kind of dizziness or vertigo is usually severe, and treatment usually relies on acupuncture’s ability to promote the free flow of Qi and thus prevent this upward explosion.
Another factor often involved in excess type dizziness is Phlegm, the accumulation in the ear or sinuses for instance, of mucus-type fluids which obstruct the free flow of Qi through the head. In this case treatment may use acupuncture and dietary adjustments to resolve the congestion.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Dizziness?
A systematic review of 27 studies of acupuncture in the treatment of Meniere’s syndrome1 suggests benefits from treatment both in the acute phase of the illness and when it is more chronic. A Swedish study2 of the effect of acupuncture and other therapies on patients suffering from dizziness or vertigo with suspected origin in cervical spine problems found that acupuncture reduced dizziness/vertigo and alleviated associated neck or head pain.
1. Long AF et al Exploring the Evidence Base for Acupuncture in the Treatment of Meniere’s Syndrome–A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 Jun 8. [Epub ahead of print]).
2. Heikkila H et al Effects of acupuncture, cervical manipulation and NSAID therapy on dizziness and impaired head repositioning of suspected cervical origin: a pilot study . Man Ther. 2000 Aug;5(3):151-7.