Diagnosed With Meniere's Disease? Consider Asking A Neurologist If It Could Be Migraines Instead

If you've recently been given a diagnosis of Meniere's disease, you may be trying to choose between your options for treatment—none of which are necessarily easy, especially if your condition is chronic and disrupting your daily life. Before you decide on a particular course of treatment, one thing that you should consider doing is making an appointment with a different doctor in order to get a second opinion. Instead of seeing an ENT, however, make your appointment with a neurologist. This is why.

Meniere's Can Be Easily Confused With Another Disorder

Meniere's disease is relatively rare, affecting only about 615,000 people in the United States. One of the primary symptoms of Meniere's is debilitating dizzy spells that can last for a few minutes or go on for hours—which also happens to be a symptom of a condition called migraines with a basilar aura. (It is also sometimes referred to as basilar migraines or Bickerstaff's syndrome.)

While 13-14% of the population suffers from some form of migraines, migraine associated vertigo only affects 1% of the population. Meniere's, by comparison, only affects 0.05% of the population. That means that you stand a stronger chance, mathematically, of your vertigo spells being related to a migraine disorder, not Meniere's.

In addition, there are numerous other symptoms besides dizziness that are shared by the two conditions:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • difficulty with your vision
  • temporary trouble hearing
  • tinnitus
  • confusion
  • loss of balance
  • sensitivity to sound
  • difficulty concentrating

These symptoms all occur during the aura phase of the migraines, which precedes any actual migraine pain. Sometimes the migraines self-abort, because the adrenaline in your system kicks in from the panic you feel from being so sick and dizzy, and sometimes the auras precedes the migraines so far in advance that the sufferer simply doesn't realize that the two are connected.

How can they be told apart?

During the later stages of Meniere's disease, hearing loss begins to be more significant in the affected ear or ears and is more likely to become permanent. However, in the earlier stages, especially if symptoms are infrequent, you may not be able to tell the difference easily. Ironically, however, some of the treatments for Meniere's disease can make migraines worse. One of the first things doctors usually try is a diet that sharply restricts sodium, in order to reduce fluid retention in the inner ear. However, low sodium levels are a known trigger for some migraine sufferers.

If the low-sodium diet doesn't seem to be working, your doctor may want to move on to more severe treatments, using medication and even surgery to correct the problem. However, it might not be necessary if you're actually suffering from migraines with basilar aura instead.

Only a neurologist can make the determination as to whether or not you are suffering from this relatively rare form of migraines instead of the even rarer Meniere's. However, if your initial efforts at treating the Meniere's don't seem to be working or your condition seems to be getting worse, consider consulting a neurologist, such as Mohsen M. Hamza, M.D., before you go any further with treatment.