CHICAGO (CBS) — Ever have that awful feeling that the room is spinning and it makes you sick? Doctors estimate that vertigo affects about 20 million people and the numbers seem to be on the rise.
Take for instance, Kathy Gnidovic. She enjoys cooking for her family now, but in the past it was hard because she was suffering from bouts of vertigo.
“I got up and everything was spinning … and then I got real nauseous,” she said.
Once, she couldn’t get out of bed for a week.
“You can’t even move. I mean, walking the floor is just like you’re catching a wave type thing,” she said.
Things as simple as cooking became a huge challenge.
“If I was going to bend down and pick things up … especially if I was going to … be grabbing things from the garden,” she said.
“It’s one of the most common causes for doctor visits,” said Dr. John Leonetti from Loyola University Medical Center.
Vertigo is a symptom, not a disease and there are many causes. Every week, Dr. Leonetti treats about 10 to 15 patients who complain of vertigo. That’s double from a few years ago.
Why the increase?
“Probably the number one cause for us to see more patients with vertigo is our population aging,” he said.
Seniors can suffer vertigo, simply from getting up too quickly. He recommends they keep their blood pressure in check and avoid too much salt and caffeine.
“In young people, the most likely diagnosis is going to be a virus called Vestibular Neuronitis,” he said. That’s treated with medication and is usually a one-time event.
Young people can also suffer from positional vertigo when microscopic crystals get displaced in the ear.
“It could be a car accident, a fall or a blow to the head,” he said. Certain exercises can help those patients.
But Kathy was diagnosed with Menieres Disease, a chronic disorder of the inner ear, and chronic overeating. Diet and medication didn’t work, and Kathy needed surgery to treat it.
“It’s called an ‘Endolymphatic Sac Decompression’ and that controls the symptoms in about 85 percent of patients,” he said.
For Kathy, it changed her life.
“I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Can I go swimming, can I fly on a plane?’ I’m fine,” she said.
So for the millions of other sufferers of vertigo?
“I want them to know there’s help,” she said.
Migraines are another possible cause of vertigo.
If you suffer from frequent or long lasting vertigo, Dr. Leonetti suggests you see a specialist for a diagnosis.