In a 2011 survey by the Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA), it was determined that those suffering from dizziness (the “dizzy” patient) were on average seen by 4-5 doctors before receiving the correct diagnosis. As is the case with any medical condition, without the correct diagnosis, the most appropriate treatment cannot be administered.
Symptoms of dizziness are typically subjective and an accurate diagnosis at first may not be straight forward. Many patients suffering from dizziness typically see several doctors and undergo multiple tests while accumulating large medical bills and no answers. The time “dizzy” patients spend in this process can be months to years and may result in painful fall-related injuries while seeking help from various healthcare practitioners.
“Dizzy” patients may initially be seen by their primary care physician or go to an urgent care facility or emergency room, then, as the potential underlying cause for dizziness can be diverse, referred to ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat – aka Otolaryngologist), a neurologist and/or cardiologist. Studies reveal that many undergo brain or sinus CT and/or MRI scans, carotid doppler studies, EEG, EKG, echocardiogram, tilt table testing, and blood tests, all of which have low yield in arriving at the correct diagnosis for most “dizzy” patients. Vestibular suppressant medications, such as meclizine, diazepam or promethazine, typically offer little relief and the majority of “dizzy” patients do not significantly benefit from PT (physical therapy).
The knowledge and technology we have available today in the diagnosis and treatment of the “dizzy” patient has advanced significantly and is different than what would have been considered standard of care just 20 years ago. At the initial visit to a physician experienced in vestibular disorders, the “dizzy”patient will be given the most likely diagnosis and a short list of differential diagnoses. Vestibular function testing and an audiogram (hearing test) are generally the most valuable tests to obtain for the “dizzy” patient, and will help confirm or refute the diagnosis suspected by clinical information obtained in the history and physical exam.
Arriving at the correct diagnosis is vitally important because effective treatment of “dizziness” depends on the diagnosis. One cause of dizziness requires a specific sequence of head movements which can result in an instant cure, another cause is treated by reducing dietary sodium and/or a diuretic medication, while the most common cause of dizziness improves or resolves with a migraine-preventative medication, and other causes benefit from a specialized form of PT (physical therapy) known as vestibular rehabilitation therapy.
Especially in this age of high deductible health insurance plans, patients are seeking the most expedient and accurate diagnoses and the most effective treatment in a cost-effective manner. With the advanced diagnostic and treatment capabilities available today, “dizzy” patients should no longer have to see 4-5 doctorsbefore receiving the correct diagnosis.