Medications for Dizziness

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Written By Dr. Marcus Yu Bin Pai

MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

To understand the complexities of dizziness, it’s imperative to categorize and understand its various types for targeted treatment. This exploration goes beyond merely listing medications for dizziness or labyrinthitis; it involves a nuanced selection of dizziness types to tailor specific treatments.

Labyrinthine Dizziness

Among the principal types of dizziness are those originating from the labyrinth itself, with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) being a primary example. This condition is characterized by a sensation of spinning that occurs upon moving the head. Another labyrinth-related condition is labyrinthitis, an infection or inflammation of the inner ear, leading to vertigo and a sense of the surroundings spinning.

Myofascial Dizziness

Myofascial dizziness stems from muscle tension in the neck or jaw, such as excessive teeth clenching or neck muscle contraction. This excessive muscle tightness disrupts proper perception, coordination of vision, and balance, affecting the individual’s sense of equilibrium.

Dizziness Classification Test

A diagnostic tool aids in determining the type of dizziness a patient experiences, providing a direction for classification and subsequent treatment.

Neuropathic Dizziness

Neuropathic dizziness is related to peripheral neuropathy, affecting the neurons that send signals to the cerebellum, or direct cerebellar injury. Conditions include peripheral neuropathies, polyneuropathies, cerebellar lesions, cerebrovascular accidents (strokes), and other cerebellum-related diseases, impacting the transmission of neuronal information essential for balance.

Vascular Dizziness

Vascular dizziness is associated with reduced blood flow to the brain, which could stem from various conditions affecting cerebral blood supply, cardiac diseases, or neuromediated responses leading to vasodilation and insufficient cerebral blood flow.

Psychogenic or Emotional Dizziness

This category includes psychogenic or emotional dizziness, also known as phobic vertigo or dizziness, where psychological factors or phobias trigger dizziness symptoms.

Expanding on this, each type of dizziness requires a tailored approach in diagnostics and treatment, emphasizing the importance of accurate classification. For instance, BPPV may be managed with canalith repositioning maneuvers, while myofascial dizziness might benefit from physical therapy or relaxation techniques targeting the neck and jaw muscles.

Neuropathic dizziness necessitates addressing the underlying neuropathy or cerebellar issues, possibly involving medication, physical therapy, or even surgical interventions in certain cases. Vascular dizziness demands management of the underlying vascular issues or cardiovascular health optimization. Psychogenic dizziness might be approached with psychological therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to address the emotional or phobic components.

Medications for Labyrinthine Dizziness

For labyrinthine dizziness, including conditions commonly referred to as “labyrinthitis,” the most prevalent form is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). This type of vertigo is related to head movements, often experienced when rolling over in bed, and is typically brief in duration.


Betahistine is the most widely used medication in this context, available under brand names such as Labirin or Betaserc. It operates through an anti-histamine mechanism, distinct from its allergy-treating counterparts, by enhancing the microcirculation within the ear and labyrinth. This improvement in microcirculation aids in restoring the labyrinth’s function, making Betahistine highly specific for treating inner ear-related dizziness.

A common side effect of Betahistine, particularly in individuals with a genetic predisposition to migraines, is headache. This is attributed to the vasodilatory effect of Betahistine, which increases blood flow and can lead to abrupt headaches.

The efficacy of Betahistine in treating vestibular disorders highlights its role in improving vestibular compensation, a process by which the brain adapts to changes in the inner ear to maintain balance. By enhancing blood flow to the vestibular organs, Betahistine supports the sensory systems in sending accurate signals to the brain, thereby reducing dizziness and improving balance.

Flunarizine and Cinnarizine

Flunarizine and Cinnarizine are both part of the calcium channel blocker family, which plays a crucial role in regulating calcium levels within and outside cells. By inhibiting calcium channels, these medications can prevent the activation of neurons and the constriction of blood vessels, ultimately improving dizziness associated with labyrinth disorders by enhancing blood circulation and effectively “numbing” the labyrinth area.


Flunarizine, commercially known as Vertix, is a selective calcium entry blocker with calmodulin binding properties and histamine H1 blocking activity. Its action on the vestibular system helps in reducing the duration and severity of vertigo episodes. It’s particularly effective in managing vertigo associated with Meniere’s disease and vestibular vertigo.


Cinnarizine, often referred to by its generic name, operates similarly to Flunarizine but is noted for its ability to stabilize cell membranes and inhibit contractions of vascular smooth muscles. This action not only aids in improving inner ear circulation but also in preventing motion sickness and vertigo.

Side Effects

Both medications can have side effects, notably inducing parkinsonian symptoms such as tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia. This is particularly concerning if a patient being treated for “labyrinthitis” with these medications experiences worsening rigidity and tremors without improvement in dizziness, prompting the need to consider Parkinson’s disease as a potential underlying cause of the symptoms.

Application in Migraine Prevention

Interestingly, both Flunarizine and Cinnarizine can be utilized in migraine prophylaxis. Their mechanism, which involves a kind of vascular “paralysis,” can prevent migraine attacks by inhibiting the vasospastic episodes associated with migraines. However, due to their side effect profile, particularly the risk of developing parkinsonian symptoms, their use in migraine prevention is limited and not commonly preferred in clinical practice.

The therapeutic benefits of Flunarizine and Cinnarizine in managing dizziness and migraines are counterbalanced by their potential to induce severe side effects. When prescribing these medications, healthcare providers must carefully consider the individual patient’s risk factors and symptomatology, ensuring that the benefits outweigh the potential risks. Moreover, patient monitoring for adverse effects, especially those mimicking parkinsonian syndromes, is crucial to avoid misdiagnosis and ensure appropriate management of the underlying conditions.


Dimenhydrinate, commonly known by the brand name Dramamine, is a medication primarily used to treat nausea, vomiting, and dizziness caused by motion sickness, as well as vertigo from labyrinth disorders. It functions as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant with anticholinergic, antiemetic, and antihistamine effects.

Mechanism of Action

Dimenhydrinate’s effectiveness in managing vertigo and motion sickness is attributed to its multifaceted mechanism of action:

  • Anticholinergic Effect: Dimenhydrinate exhibits anticholinergic properties by blocking the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine within the central and peripheral nervous system. This blockade leads to a decrease in the activity of the digestive tract and other autonomic nervous system functions, which can indirectly alleviate symptoms of motion sickness and vertigo by reducing the overactivity of the vestibular system.
  • Antiemetic and Antihistamine Effects: Its antiemetic properties are believed to stem from its ability to inhibit the vestibular stimulation in the brain, which can cause nausea and vomiting. Additionally, as an antihistamine, it blocks the effects of histamine in the body, further contributing to its efficacy in reducing motion sickness symptoms.

Clinical Use

Dimenhydrinate is particularly effective in acute settings, such as in emergency departments for patients experiencing severe dizziness or vertigo attacks. Its potent sedative and anti-nausea effects can provide rapid relief for distressing symptoms associated with labyrinthine disorders.

Anesthetic Effect on the Labyrinth

An interesting aspect of dimenhydrinate’s action is its anesthetic-like effect on the labyrinth, numbing the inner ear’s response to motion or positional changes that trigger vertigo. This “numbing” can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals suffering from debilitating dizziness.


Meclizine, known commercially as Meclin among other names, is a medication that exhibits both anticholinergic and antiemetic effects. This dual-action makes it particularly effective in managing conditions related to the vestibular system, such as dizziness and vertigo, as well as nausea induced by chemotherapy.

Mechanism of Action

The anticholinergic effect of Meclizine primarily works by blocking the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in the transmission of messages in the nervous system, including those that regulate movements and balance in the inner ear. By inhibiting the action of acetylcholine, Meclizine reduces the abnormal sensory signals sent from the vestibular system to the brain, which can cause dizziness and nausea.

Furthermore, its antiemetic properties stem from its ability to suppress the vomiting center in the brain, thereby reducing the sensation of nausea. This makes Meclizine an effective treatment not only for motion sickness but also for nausea associated with chemotherapy, where it helps in managing one of the common side effects of cancer treatment.

Applications in Vestibular Disorders

Meclizine is particularly indicated for the management of dizziness and vertigo associated with vestibular disorders. These conditions may include Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis, and vestibular neuritis, where the balance and spatial orientation are affected, leading to severe dizziness and risk of falls. By dampening the overactive responses in the vestibular system, Meclizine helps in stabilizing the sense of balance and reducing episodes of vertigo.

Chemotherapy-induced Nausea

In the context of chemotherapy-induced nausea, Meclizine’s efficacy as an antiemetic offers significant relief to patients undergoing cancer treatment. By targeting the central nervous system to prevent nausea and vomiting, Meclizine improves the quality of life for patients by allowing them to better tolerate their chemotherapy regimens.

Safety and Side Effects

While Meclizine is generally well-tolerated, its anticholinergic effects can lead to side effects such as dry mouth, drowsiness, blurred vision, and urinary retention in some individuals. These side effects are particularly noteworthy in elderly patients and those with pre-existing conditions that could be exacerbated by anticholinergic medications.

Myofascial Dizziness

When dizziness is linked to myofascial syndrome, characterized by contracted, stiff muscles, the use of muscle relaxants is recommended. Myofascial pain syndrome involves the development of painful muscle knots that can cause significant discomfort and contribute to symptoms like dizziness. This is because the tension and pain can affect the body’s balance and proprioception systems, leading to a sensation of dizziness or instability.


Cyclobenzaprine is a centrally acting muscle relaxant that works by targeting the central nervous system (CNS) to reduce muscle spasms without directly interfering with muscle function. It achieves this by acting on the brainstem and reducing tonic somatic motor activity, which in turn decreases the strength of muscle contractions. This action helps alleviate the discomfort associated with myofascial pain syndrome and can indirectly reduce dizziness by relieving the underlying muscle tension.

Mechanism of Action

The mechanism of cyclobenzaprine involves modulation of neurotransmitter activity in the CNS, particularly serotonergic and noradrenergic pathways. By inhibiting these pathways, cyclobenzaprine decreases the sensation of pain and reduces muscle spasms, contributing to muscle relaxation. This effect is beneficial in treating myofascial pain syndrome, where muscle spasms and stiffness are prevalent.

Side Effects

A common side effect of cyclobenzaprine is drowsiness, attributed to its central nervous system depressant effects. This sedative effect can be advantageous when the medication is taken at night, as it may also aid in improving sleep quality for individuals with myofascial pain syndrome. However, due to its sedative properties, caution is advised when using cyclobenzaprine, especially regarding activities requiring alertness, such as driving or operating heavy machinery.

Other side effects may include dry mouth, blurred vision, dizziness, and urinary retention, which are typical of medications with anticholinergic properties. These effects are important to consider when prescribing cyclobenzaprine, especially in elderly patients or those with pre-existing conditions that could be exacerbated by anticholinergic medications.

Clinical Application

Cyclobenzaprine is primarily indicated for short-term relief of muscle spasms associated with acute, painful musculoskeletal conditions. Its use in myofascial pain syndrome is based on its effectiveness in reducing muscle tension and spasms, which are key contributors to the syndrome’s symptomatology. By alleviating these symptoms, cyclobenzaprine can indirectly address dizziness related to myofascial issues by stabilizing the body’s muscular framework and improving overall balance and proprioception.


Carisoprodol is a muscle relaxant with peripheral action, directly affecting the muscle tissue itself. Unlike centrally acting muscle relaxants that target the central nervous system to relieve muscle spasms, Carisoprodol works at the level of the skeletal muscle. It is metabolized in the liver to meprobamate, a compound with anxiolytic and sedative properties, which contributes to its muscle relaxant effects.

Mechanism of Action

Carisoprodol acts by disrupting neuronal communication within the spinal cord and reticular formation in the brain, inhibiting pain sensations and muscle spasms. This action helps in the relaxation of stiff muscles, thereby potentially alleviating symptoms of dizziness associated with myofascial pain syndromes. The exact mechanism of Carisoprodol’s effects on muscle relaxation is not fully understood but is believed to involve its sedative properties, which may indirectly contribute to its effectiveness in muscle relaxation.

Clinical Use and Availability

It’s often found in combination with other medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, vitamins, or analgesics like Dipyrone (Metamizole) to enhance its therapeutic effect, particularly in complex pain management scenarios. However, its use is becoming more scrutinized due to concerns over abuse, dependence, and side effects, leading to its varied availability and legal status across different regions.


Lidocaine is a local anesthetic used in various medical procedures to induce temporary numbness or loss of sensation in a specific area of the body. Its application extends beyond typical anesthesia, including the treatment of myofascial pain syndromes, where it can be injected directly into muscle tissues to alleviate pain and reduce muscle spasms.

Mechanism of Action

Lidocaine works by blocking sodium channels on the neuronal cell membrane, preventing the propagation of nerve impulses that convey pain signals to the brain. This blockade results in the temporary numbing of the treated area, allowing for muscle relaxation and pain relief. When applied to tense or spasmed muscles, such as those in the jaw or neck contributing to dizziness, Lidocaine can provide immediate relief by relaxing the muscle and preventing re-contraction.

Application and Efficacy

The use of Lidocaine for muscle relaxation must be performed by healthcare professionals due to the precision required in its administration and the potential for systemic effects if not applied correctly. Its efficacy in improving dizziness related to myofascial tension is particularly noted when injected into areas contributing to the dizziness, such as the muscles of mastication or the cervical musculature, providing a direct and targeted approach to symptom relief.

Botulinum Toxin as a Therapeutic Muscle Relaxant

Botulinum toxin, a highly potent muscle relaxant, has therapeutic applications far beyond cosmetic uses. It is derived from Clostridium botulinum bacteria and, when used in small, controlled doses, can provide significant relief from chronic muscle contractions. This toxin works by blocking the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for triggering muscle contractions, at the neuromuscular junction. By inhibiting this signal, botulinum toxin prevents the muscles from contracting excessively.

Mechanism of Action

The therapeutic use of botulinum toxin involves its injection into specific muscles exhibiting excessive contraction or spasticity. Once administered, it binds to the nerve endings of motor neurons and enters the nerves, where it interferes with the release of acetylcholine. Without this neurotransmitter, the muscle is unable to contract, leading to a reduction in muscle stiffness and spasticity. This effect is both localized and temporary, lasting for approximately four to six months, after which the nerve endings begin to regenerate, and muscle activity gradually returns.

Clinical Applications

In the context of dizziness and vertigo associated with myofascial pain syndromes, botulinum toxin can be particularly effective. By selectively targeting muscles that are in a state of constant contraction and contributing to the dizziness, such as those in the neck or jaw, botulinum toxin provides a direct approach to alleviating these symptoms. This is especially useful for patients who have not responded to conventional treatments like oral muscle relaxants or physical therapy.

Safety and Efficacy

The safety profile of botulinum toxin is well-established, with the main considerations being the precision of its application and the expertise of the administering clinician. Adverse effects are typically mild and transient, including localized pain, swelling, or bruising at the injection site. Systemic side effects are rare due to the localized action of the toxin.

Duration of Relief

The duration of symptom relief from a single treatment can vary but generally lasts from four to six months. This temporal nature of the treatment necessitates periodic re-administration for sustained symptom management. The ability to provide long-term relief with relatively infrequent treatments makes botulinum toxin a valuable option for managing chronic conditions associated with muscle contractions.

Neurological Dizziness: Neuropathic and Cerebellar

Neurological dizziness can be attributed to conditions affecting the neurons, such as peripheral neuropathies or cerebellar pathologies. The cerebellum, acting as the body’s coordination center, plays a crucial role in maintaining balance and spatial orientation. In cases of neurological lesions, the primary approach involves removing or treating the causative factor, addressing the specific disease causing the damage, and facilitating neuronal recovery.

Vitamins B1, B6, and B12 in Neuropathic Treatment

For peripheral neuropathies—conditions affecting the peripheral nerves—the B-complex vitamins, particularly B1 (Thiamine), B6 (Pyridoxine), and B12 (Cobalamin), are commonly employed. These vitamins are essential for nerve health and function, supporting nerve regeneration and reducing symptoms of neuropathy, including dizziness.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

Thiamine plays a critical role in carbohydrate metabolism and is required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters. It aids in the maintenance of myelin sheaths, which protect nerve fibers and facilitate the transmission of electrical signals within the nervous system. Thiamine deficiency can lead to neuropathic conditions and exacerbate dizziness.

Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)

Pyridoxine is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and GABA, which are crucial for brain and nervous system function. It also contributes to the myelin sheath’s formation and maintenance, enhancing nerve health and resilience.

Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Cobalamin is vital for the maintenance of nerve cell health, DNA synthesis, and the formation of red blood cells. It supports the regeneration of the myelin sheath and reduces neuroinflammation, playing a significant role in preventing and treating neuropathies.

Administration Methods

While B-complex vitamins are available in oral form, injectable formulations, such as Citoneurin and others, are often recommended for their rapid replenishment and higher bioavailability. Injectable B vitamins can provide quicker relief from the symptoms of peripheral neuropathies, including neuropathic dizziness. The preference for injectable over oral administration is based on the need for a more immediate therapeutic effect, especially in cases of severe deficiency or when the oral absorption of vitamins is impaired.

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MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

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