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Persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD; previously termed "chronic subjective dizziness") is a frequently observed disorder in patients who present with dizziness to audiology; ear, nose, and throat; or neurology clinics. The primary symptoms are persistent nonvertiginous dizziness, and hypersensitivity to motion and visual stimuli. These occur either in the absence of any active neuro-otologic illness or, where an episodic vestibular disorder exists, symptoms cannot be fully explained by the disorder alone. Diagnosis is necessarily multidisciplinary and proceeds by identification of primary symptoms and exclusion of other neurological or active medical disorders requiring treatment. Psychological processes are implicated in the development and maintenance of PPPD, with similarities to cognitive models of health anxiety and panic disorder, and there is evidence that cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment. A cognitive-behavioral model of PPPD is presented along with a case example. It is suggested that dizziness becomes persistent when it is processed as a threat, and that it is maintained by (a) unhelpful appraisals, (b) avoidance and safety behaviors, and (c) attentional strategies including selective attention to body sensations associated with dizziness. Once PPPD is identified techniques for its effective treatment fall within the skills mix of qualified cognitive-behavioral therapists or vestibular clinical scientists who have received additional training in cognitive and behavioral treatment.
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A Cognitive Behavioural Model of Persistent Postural-Perceptual Dizziness
Matthew G. Whalley and Debbie A. Cane*
Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust
*These authors contributed equally to this work
Author Note
Matthew G. Whalley, Clinical Health Psychology Service, Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust
Debbie A. Cane, Audiology Service, Royal Berkshire Hospital
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to:
Matthew G. Whalley, Berkshire Traumatic Stress Service, 25 Erleigh Road, Reading, RG1 5LR.
Debbie A. Cane, Manchester Centre for Audiology and Deafness (ManCAD), School of
Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Room B2.13 Ellen Wilkinson Building, Oxford Road,
Manchester M13 9PL. E-mail
The authors would like to extend their thanks to the editor Dr Chu and to the two anonymous
reviewers whose feedback significantly improved this article.
Whalley, M. G., & Cane, D. A. (2016). A Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Persistent Postural-
Perceptual Dizziness. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice.
Persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD; previously termed chronic subjective dizziness) is a
frequently observed disorder in patients who present with dizziness to Audiology, Ear Nose and Throat, or
Neurology clinics. The primary symptoms are persistent non-vertiginous dizziness, and hypersensitivity to
motion and visual stimuli. These occur ether in the absence of any active neuro-otologic illness or, where an
episodic vestibular disorder exists, symptoms cannot be fully explained by the disorder alone. Diagnosis is
necessarily multidisciplinary and proceeds by identification of primary symptoms and exclusion of other
neurological or active medical disorders requiring treatment. Psychological processes are implicated in the
development and maintenance of PPPD, with similarities to cognitive models of health anxiety and panic
disorder, and there is evidence that cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective treatment. A cognitive-
behavioural model of PPPD is presented along with a case example. It is suggested that dizziness becomes
persistent when it is processed as a threat, and that it is maintained by: (1) unhelpful appraisals, (2)
avoidance and safety behaviours, and (3) attentional strategies including selective attention to body
sensations associated with dizziness. Once PPPD is identified techniques for its effective treatment fall
within the skills mix of qualified cognitive behavioural therapists or vestibular clinical scientists who have
received additional training in cognitive and behavioural treatment.
Dizziness is one of the most commonly reported symptoms in primary care (Kroenke et al., 1994),
and within neurology it is the second most frequently reported symptom after headaches (Brandt, 1996). One
study found the prevalence of dizziness in a community sample of working-age adults to be 40%, with half
of these rating their dizziness ashandicapping (Yardley, 1998). Chronic dizziness is often caused by
dysfunction of the peripheral vestibular system, and many of these cases respond well to forms of
physiotherapy such as vestibular rehabilitation (Herdman & Clendaniel, 2014). Dizziness (lightheadedness)
is also a symptom associated with anxiety and can occur secondary to biological preparedness for threat
(fight or flight). It is one of the most frequently occurring symptoms of panic attacks, observed in up to 95%
of patients with panic disorder (Barlow, 2004).
Up to 10% of patients presenting in neurology clinics have dizziness that cannot be explained by
either a vestibular disorder or by another organic illnessdman & Maire, 2008). It is thought that a subset
of dizzy patients experience dizziness that is maintained by psychological factors such as anxiety (Furman &
Jacob, 2001; Eckhardt-Henn et al., 2003; Staab, 2012). Common neural substrates between dizziness and
anxiety have been identified (Balaban & Thayer, 2001), but a truly integrated model of chronic dizziness has
so far been lacking.
What is Persistent Postural-Perceptual Dizziness?
Persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD) is the most recent diagnostic term for what has
previously been calledspace motion discomfort (Jacob et al., 1989),phobic postural vertigo(PPV:
Brandt, 1996),psychogenic dizziness(Buljan & Ivancic, 2007), ‘chronic subjective dizziness’ (CSD: Staab
& Ruckenstein, 2007), andpsycho-physiological dizziness (PPD: Edelman et al., 2012). PPPD is
recognised in the draft version of ICD-11 (ICD-11 Beta Draft) and is also consistent with the presentation of
somatic symptom disorder in DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). For simplicity the term
PPPD will be used throughout this paper to refer to all of these conditions (for a review of the history of
diagnostic terms within this field see Staab, 2012).
PPPD is characterised by three main symptom clusters:
Persistent non-rotatory dizziness which lasts 3 or more months
Hypersensitivity to motion stimuli (including the patient’s own movement) and hypersensitivity to
visual stimuli including the movement of objects in a busy visual environment
Difficulty with precision visual tasks such as reading or using computers
These symptoms occur in the absence of an active physical neuro-otologic illness or medication causing
dizziness or, where an active episodic medical or vestibular disorder exists, symptoms cannot be fully
explained by the disorder alone (Staab, 2012). They occur in the presence of normal brain radiology
findings, and non-diagnostic findings on tests of balance function (Staab & Ruckenstein, 2007). For
reference the clinical features of PPPD are given in table 1.
**Table 1 here**
PPPD can be precipitated by a medical condition (normally otogenic), or by acute episodes of
anxiety. In this article we use the term otogenic where there is a pathophysiological precipitant and non-
specific where PPPD is precipitated by an episode of acute anxiety. We prefer the term non-specific to
previous labels of psychogenic and interactive (Staab & Ruckenstein, 2003, 2007). Where a vestibular
disorder is identified as a precipitant for PPPD (otogenic PPPD) it typically results in acute symptoms of
rotatory vertigo (spinning) or other symptoms of dizziness. Peripheral vestibular disorders that are common
precursors to PPPD include: unilateral or bilateral vestibulopathy (vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis),
vestibular migraine, Meniere’s disease, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular
paroxysmia, and perilymph fistula (Staab, 2012). The underlying vestibular deficit, such as an asymmetry
between balance organ function, can either resolve (in which case the cause for the balance problem has
resolved) or remains (in which case the patient’s balance systemcompensatesfor the deficit with time and
there is no remaining medical cause for persistent dizziness). For more information about vestibular
compensation see the later sectionBalance Control System Dysfunction & Balance Symptoms. Non-
specific PPPD can be precipitated by acute episodes of anxiety such as panic attacks.
Diagnosis of PPPD
As serious central causes of dizziness (e.g. neurodegenerative disorders, space occupying lesions,
and vestibular schwannoma) can present in a similar way to PPPD (i.e. constant low-level dizziness) it is
important that an accurate differential diagnosis is made by an appropriate professional such as a specialist in
vestibular disorders, an ENT specialist, or a Neurologist. In this respect PPPD can be considered similar to
other health conditions, such as pain or chronic fatigue syndrome, where good practice guidelines within
clinical health psychology recommend the identification of positive symptoms and the exclusion of other
disease processes potentially responsible for the clinical presentation (Seime, Clark, & Whiteside, 2003).
A specialist balance assessment will consist of taking a history of past and current symptoms,
balance function testing (e.g. videonystagmography, head impulse test, positioning/positional tests, calorics,
and vestibular evoked myogenic potentials), and administration of psychometric tests of patient’s symptoms
and perceived disabilities. Useful psychometric tests include the vestibular rehabilitation benefit
questionnaire (VRBQ: Morris et al, 2008, 2009), dizziness handicap inventory (DHI: Jacobson & Newman,
1990), and the Nijmegen questionnaire (Van Doorn et al, 1983). In clients with PPPD test results should
either be normal or, if significant findings are demonstrated (such as a significant canal paresis on caloric
testing), either the patient’s history and other tests of central compensation such as directional preponderance
will suggest that compensation is complete. In the case of an active episodic vestibular disorder, the patients
symptoms cannot be explained by the disorder (or recorded physiological deficit) alone. Limitations of
testing, such as the fact that a normal test result does not always preclude a vestibular disorder, often mean
that the history and current reported symptoms are fundamental to the diagnosis. Where diagnosis is unclear
an additional neurological referral and/or MRI scan of the brain and internal auditory meatus is requested
in the case of PPPD the results of these will be normal.
Symptoms of an uncompensated peripheral vestibular disorder (UVD) often overlap with PPPD and
it can be hard to distinguish between them. Both sets of patients may report movement-evoked and visually-
evoked symptoms of imbalance or disorientation. Many will also report fatigue, poor concentration and
memory, and difficulties multi-tasking. Critically, however, patients with a compensated vestibular disorder
should not report symptoms when still. Patients with UVD will often report more symptoms when multi-
tasking such as when walking, and when turning their heads whilst talking, whereas for patients with PPPD
the dual-task will serve as a distraction and symptoms will be reduced. Even if this distinction is unclear it is
encouraging to note that similar treatment strategies including exposure to the stimuli which trigger
symptoms will lead to symptom reduction in both conditions, albeit by differing mechanisms.
Diagnosing clinicians are encouraged to carry out a simultaneous psychological screening. Adoption
of concurrent medical and psychological screening has been found to reduce iatrogenic effects in
conceptually similar conditions such as chronic pain (Kouyanou et al, 1998). Measures such as the health
anxiety inventory (HAI: Salkovskis et al, 2002) are particularly likely to be informative.
Psychiatric Comorbidity of PPPD
Fear or anxiety is an unconditioned response to dizziness, and so it is unsurprising that anxiety
features prominently in the presentation of those with PPPD. PPPD is frequently comorbid with other
psychiatric conditions, although not in all cases. Kapfhammer et al (1997) conducted psychiatric assessments
on a group of 42 patients with PPPD and found that although anxiety and mood disorders meeting DSM-III-
R criteria were present in 2/3 of the group, they were absent in the final third. Similarly Staab & Ruckenstein
(2007) found that 60% of patients with PPPD also met formal criteria for an anxiety disorder such as panic
disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. Staab & Ruckenstein (2007) found that 1/3 of PPPD cases are
directly precipitated by an episode of anxiety in the absence of any vestibular disorder. DSM-5 reorganised
the category of ‘somatic symptom and related disorders’ and we would hypothesise significant overlap of
PPPD with the new diagnostic categorysomatic symptom disorder’.
Chronological Development of PPPD
One of the most helpful contributions of Staab’s (2012) model of PPPD is its consideration of the
chronological development of the condition, particularly the identification of mechanisms operating in the
acute phase of an illness that can contribute to the development of chronic dizziness. It identifies typical
strategies (behavioural and attentional) which, while helpful in the acute stages, become counterproductive
when maintained in the longer term. When an individual experiences acute dizziness or rotatory vertigo
(spinning) sensible behavioural adaptations are adopted in order to ensure physical safety. These adaptations
include holding on for support to reduce the risk of falling and minimizing head and other movement (as this
will exacerbate dizziness caused by a vestibular disorder) to reduce the risk of injury. Other adaptations
include keeping away from dangers such as busy roads where injury may be more likely or severe should a
fall occur, and increasing vigilance towards the environment for threats to balance such as trip hazards.
Central (brain driven) adaptations are also made. There are three inputs to the balance system: the
vestibular system (inner ear organ of balance), the visual system, and the proprioceptive system. Information
from all three is integrated to ensure optimal maintenance of balance and upright posture both when still and
moving. The relative importance (or weighting) of the vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive systems can
change according to circumstance. When the vestibular input is damaged or unreliable the balance system
relies less upon this input (‘down-weighting’) and relies more upon the other two reliable inputs (‘up-
weighting). This will begin to occur following an attack of rotatory vertigo.
Staab’s model argues that once the constant rotatory vertigo seen in the acute stage of the vestibular
disorder resolves (which occurs spontaneously within a few days), longer-term recovery from the subsequent
movement-evoked dizziness (which does not resolve spontaneously and requires the patient to move) is
accomplished by relinquishing these acute adaptations. This gives the central balance control system the
opportunity to readapt or compensate. He argues that once compensation has occurred (or function restores),
PPPD results when there is failure to readapt and relinquish the acutely beneficial safety strategies.
Continued up-weighting of the visual system causes the symptoms of visual vertigo. This is compounded by
hypervigilance for and hypersensitivity to symptoms of dizziness, which in turn tend to lead to apparent
exacerbation of symptoms both visual and movement-evoked and avoidance of evocative situations.
Constant low-level symptoms seen in PPPD thus develop.
Other Formulations of PPPD
Although Staab’s (2012) model is currently the most developed explanation of the mechanisms
underlying the disorder there are other complementary formulations. Brandt (1996) developed an influential
model of phobic postural vertigo (a term commonly used for this condition prior to PPPD). His model
proposes that chronic dizziness is the result of mismatch between expected and actual sensorimotor signals
from the visual, somatosensory, and vestibular inputs (recent research indicates this mismatch is broader and
may encompass altered pain processing: Holle et al, 2015). According to this model if there is sensorimotor
mismatch then self-generated motions can be misinterpreted as being externally-generated, causing postural
vertigo to be experienced and leading to the adoption of inappropriate postural strategies. Brandt’s
conceptualization also included cognitive aspects but these were framed, we think unhelpfully, in terms of
obsessional thinking.
Drawing upon evidence that some vestibular and anxiety symptoms are mediated by a common
neuroanatomical substrate (Balaban & Thayer, 2001), Odman & Maire (2008) present a model of PPPD
which emphasises neuroanatomical and neurochemical aspects. Their model identifies the contribution of
anxiety to the maintenance of PPPD, but from a treatment perspective the model infers medical treatments at
the levels of neuroanatomy and neurochemistry.
Taking a cognitive behavioural approach Edelman et al (2012) draw attention to the similarities
between PPPD and panic disorder, arguing that both involve conditioned threat responses to misinterpreted
and unwanted bodily sensations. They identify the counterproductive operation of safety behaviours in PPPD
and hypothesise that cognitive behavioural treatment strategies similar to those used for panic disorder may
be appropriate. Although frequently comorbid with anxiety disorders such as panic disorder earlier evidence
indicates that not all cases of PPPD meet criteria for such diagnoses (Kapfhammer et al, 1997; Staab &
Ruckenstein, 2007).
The Need For a Cognitive-Behavioural Model of PPPD
Advances in our understanding of PPPD mean that many aspects of the condition are now well
explained. However, synthesis of a number of ideas is needed at this point in time. Cognitive behavioural
theory (CBT) is an ideal framework within which to bring together the biopsychosocial components
operating in PPPD. Our model draws heavily upon the theory of Staab (2012) which has done an excellent
job of elucidating the precipitants and factors operating which result in a presentation of PPPD. It is also
necessary to acknowledge the advances made by Brandt (1996) and Edelman et al (2012). Our model
extends this work through detailed consideration of the psychological mechanisms which serve to maintain
PPPD, with particular emphasis upon how these may predict effective treatment strategies. The resulting
model shares common transdiagnostic mechanisms with cognitive behavioural formulations of health
anxiety (e.g. Salkovskis & Warwick, 1986), and can be considered a dizziness-specific implementation of a
health anxiety model.
A Cognitive Behavioural Model of PPPD
This paper introduces a model to explain the development and maintenance of PPPD (both otogenic
and non--specific types) and to provide a framework for the cognitive-behavioural treatment of PPPD. Our
model proposes that persistent dizziness is maintained by a variety of processes in the absence of a balance
control system dysfunction. The model is presented in two states:initial/precipitating andpersistent (see
figure 1). The persistent state is of particular interest to the therapist working with patients diagnosed with
PPPD. The model illustrates the mechanisms that are serving to maintain persistent dizziness and therefore
identifies targets for treatment in therapy.
*Insert figure 1 here*
A key tenet of CBT is that appraisal shapes emotion, and emotion guides behaviour (Beck, 1976).
Appraisals of particular somatic sensations as threatening can lead to feelings of anxiety and action to avoid
the sensation. In many cases the action to avoid leads to a feedback cycle in which the individual fails to
learn about the benign nature of the somatic sensation. This cycle has been labeledinteroceptive avoidance
(Barlow, 2002) and has been identified as a transdiagnostic mechanism common to a range of conditions
(Frank & Davidson, 2014). By including the mechanism of interoceptive avoidance our model shares
similarities with cognitive models of panic (Clark, 1986), health anxiety (Salkovskis & Warwick, 1986,
Stern & Drummond, 1991; Salkovskis, Warwick & Deale, 2003) and with the cognitive behavioural models
of chronic pain (Lethem et al, 1983; Vlaeyen & Linton, 2000; Sharp, 2001). Our model can be considered to
be part of the family of health anxiety formulations, although it includes additional dizziness-specific
considerations. Our model is distinct from previous conceptualisations of PPPD in that treatment
interventions are framed using cognitive terminology. Figure 1 summarises the key components of this
model of dizziness in both initial and persistent phases, and components are explained in greater detail
Certain personality characteristics are thought to increase vulnerability to the development of PPPD.
Compared to patients with common vestibular symptoms those with PPPD score higher on neuroticism (a
component of which is trait anxiety) and lower on extraversion (Staab et al., 2014). Higher than normal
levels of anxiety experienced during an acute bout of vestibular symptoms may also predispose patients to
developing PPPD (Best et al., 2009; Godemann et al., 2005; Heinrichs et al., 2007).
It has been established that a greater sensitivity to internal body sensations is a vulnerability factor
for panic disorder (Schmidt, Lerew & Trakaowski, 1997), and that patients with panic disorder are more
likely to interpret ambiguous body sensations as signs of impending catastrophe (Clark, et al., 1997).
Although to the best of our knowledge this is currently untested we would make the empirical prediction that
similar patterns would be observed in patients with PPPD compared to patients with other vestibular
A tendency to misinterpret ambiguous medical information in a negative way is a key feature of
health anxiety (Warwick & Salkovskis, 1990). This tendency has been found to predict subsequent anxiety
following a medical investigation at 1 week, 3 month, and 1 year latencies (Rimes & Salkovskis, 2002).
Although it remains to be tested we predict that patients with PPPD engage in such misinterpretations and
would score more highly on a measure of health anxiety than patients with other vestibular disorders.
Triggers For an Episode of PPPD
A wide variety of vestibular disorders can act as triggers for otogenic PPPD (Huppert et al., 1995).
Conditions which cause recurrent or episodic vertigo such as migraine associated dizziness, Meniere’s
disease, or recurrent benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), are particularly common triggers (Neff et
al., 2012). Triggers for non-specific PPPD include episodes of anxiety, such as panic attacks, where the
patient experiences dizziness or unsteadiness.
Balance Control System Dysfunction & Balance Symptoms
Persistent dizziness is often precipitated by an acute vestibular insult. In this phase there is usually
dysfunction of one or both of the balance organs, their associated nerves, or central processing systems. The
balance control system can rest in a number of states, depending upon whether the peripheralcause for the
balance episode has beencompensated for centrally. A reduction of function in one or both balance organs
will initially cause acute vertigo (unilateral loss of function), or severe imbalance (bilateral loss of function)
even when the individual is still. Symptoms while stationary will gradually diminish over 24-48 hours as
static compensation occurs centrally for an asymmetry in function (or as function restores in Meneires, or as
the altered neurological processes in migraine-associated-dizziness resolve). Where balance organ function
remains reduced, the patient will then experience movement-evoked dizziness/imbalance, and this is often
associated with visual vertigo (symptoms of nausea, imbalance and disorientation elicited by busy visual
environments). Dynamic compensation will only occur with exposure to the symptoms. This is achieved by
having the patient practice a tailored set of vestibular rehabilitation exercises, of increasing difficulty, which
evoke the symptoms mildly 2-5 times per day over a number of weeks (generally 6-8 depending on
compliance). Once the patient is symptom-free upon movement and in busy environments compensation is
said to have occurred, even if the balance organ function remains impaired. It should be noted that
compensation and complete alleviation of symptoms should be possible in patients with unilateral
dysfunction. Recovery in patients with bilateral hypofunction will take longer and patients will often be
symptomatic during some activities or situations (for example where both vision and propriocepetion is
compromised, or in sports requiring running or quick changes of direction). Decompensation can occur at
times of stress, anxiety, tiredness or illness. During decompensation there is no further change in balance
organ function, but the compensation mechanisms are dysfunctional. Exercises to promote compensation can
then be re-administered. (Curthoys & Halmagyi, 2007).
These states of the balance control system relevant to PPPD are outlined below:
1) Balance organ functioning normally Patient symptom-free
2) Balance organ functioning normally + panic attack Balance symptoms (lightheadedness) experienced
3) Dysfunction in balance organ (reduction of function in one or both balance organs) patient
experiences acute vertigo (unilateral drop in function) or severe imbalance and oscillopsia (bilateral drop
in function. This will initially occur even when still, for up to 48 hours, and then be movement-evoked
4) Dysfunction in balance organ Balance system is uncompensated Balance problem experienced
5) Dysfunction in balance organ Central compensation occurs No balance problem on movement
6) Balance organ function restores No balance problem experienced (no compensation required)
In the persistent stage of PPPD the dysfunction resolves. This may be at the level of the balance
organ (if function restores), at the level of thebalance control systemthrough central compensation for
dysfunction in the balance organ, or through recovery from the acute experience of panic. Our model
proposes that persistent dizziness is maintained by a variety of processes in the absence of a balance control
system dysfunction.
Balance Symptoms
Symptoms experienced prior to the development PPPD will depend upon the precise nature of the
triggering event. In the case where vestibular neuritis is the trigger, symptoms experienced would include
acute rotatory vertigo (even when still) and episodes of vomiting for 24-48 hours exacerbated by movement.
This is then followed by dizziness evoked by movement. In the case of a triggering panic attack physical
symptoms might include lightheadedness and imbalance, and both may be accompanied by nausea and an
emotional response of fear. Balance symptoms in the persistent phase of PPPD involve sensations of rocking
or swaying, unsteadiness, or non-vertiginous dizziness, and sensitivity to motion and visual stimuli. In PPPD
these occur in the absence of any active medical or neurological condition which would cause balance
Appraisal Of The Balance Symptoms / Bodily Sensations
In cognitive therapy the appraisal of a stimulus determines the response. If balance sensations are
appraised as non-threatening (e.g. My dizziness is understandable as I have had a few drinks, “I’m just hot
and I’ll feel better when I get some fresh air) then we would hypothesise that individuals will not develop a
persistent balance problem. However, if balance symptoms are appraised as threatening (e.g. “I’m having a
stroke and may die) then a strong emotional response is initiated, often followed by a behavioural response
the consequences of which can lead to persistent dizziness. Unhelpful appraisals have been linked to the
chronicity of dizziness following vestibular dysfunction (Godemann et al., 2005; Heinrichs et al., 2007,
Yardley, 1994).
The magnitude of perceived threat has been linked to four types of appraisals: perceived likelihood
of threat, perceived consequences of threat, perceived ability to cope, and perceived rescue factors
(Salkovskis, 1996). This framework is helpful in understanding balance appraisals, several types of which
can result in a sense of threat. Catastrophic appraisals regarding the consequences of symptoms can increase
anxiety (“I’m having a stroke, “I’m in real danger, I could fall, “I’ll never get better). Over-general
interpretation of normal sensations of dizziness or imbalance can lead patients to predict an acute attack as
likely (“I’m feeling dizzy, this means I’ll have another severe attack). Misinterpretations of (normal)
movement-evoked symptoms experienced during the uncompensated phase of a peripheral vestibular insult
are an example of this. Catastrophic appraisals regarding coping can further increase anxiety (“I can’t cope
with being ill”, “If I fall no-one will help). Negative appraisals of others can trigger a perception of social
threat (Other people will think I’m drunk) leading to feelings of embarrassment or humiliation.
Emotional Response to Appraisal
As described above, the idiosyncratic nature of the appraisal will determine the precise emotional
response. The most common emotional responses in PPPD are anxiety and fear, but other responses such as
shame can also be present. For example People will think I’m drunk (embarrassment), “I’m letting my
family down (guilt/shame).
Behavioural Adaptation Strategies
In the acute stage of a balance problem there is a direct threat to physical safety due to the risk of
falling. When this threat is perceived the individual takes action to minimise the consequences of the
dysfunction. As already discussed, Staab (2012) identifies these asacute behavioural adaptation strategies’.
In the short term these acute behavioural strategies are effective at keeping the individual safe from harm. In
individuals who experience an acute balance problem but do not go on to develop PPPD compensation
occurs in tandem with these strategies being relinquished and the symptoms resolve.
In individuals who develop persistent dizziness these acute behavioural strategies persist, and often
extend or generalise. Patients presenting at the clinic may have stopped exercising, avoid busy places, and
retreat tosafe places such as home whenever dizziness starts. They may avoid situations in which they fear
that the consequences of a further attack of dizziness may be serious, and are often not keen to go back to
places where they had an attack of dizziness for fear of a further attack. The persistence of such strategies
can lengthen the time to recovery by preventing the full compensation of the balance control system, and
may also lead to PPPD. When acute behavioural strategies continue to be used beyond their original
usefulness they have the role of preventing the updating of unhelpful balance related appraisals (e.g. If I
move my head I’ll get dizzy and fall, “I’m not safe unless I hold on). Such appraisals lead to threat
perception and further preparation for action.
Acute Attentional Strategies
As well as behavioural strategies Staab (2012) also identifies attentional strategies as operating in the
acute stage of a balance disorder, which in PPPD the patient has failed to relinquish. These attentional
strategies vary in terms of how automatic or deliberate they are. One attentional strategy in PPPD is
increased vigilance to environmental factors with the aim of reducing risk. Such a strategy would include
looking out for things that might result in injury (e.g. slip, trip hazards) or factors that would increase the
severity or consequences should an accident occur (e.g. where in a pavement it would be safest to fall, such
as away from a road). However, when used longer-term, increased vigilance (hypervigilance) for danger
increases the likelihood of environmental dangers being identified, with a consequential prolonging of- or
increase in threat appraisal and threat perception.
Another key attentional strategy, albeit one out of control of the patient, is an alteration in
importance given to (orattention paid) to sensory inputs to maintain balance at the expense of others by the
balance control mechanisms in the brain. Successful balance relies upon combined input from the visual,
somatosensory, and vestibular systems. In a situation where one of these systems is unreliable, such as
during an acute vestibular disorder, up-weighting of visual and somatosensory input (i.e. the brain relies
more upon these inputs for balance) and down-weighting of vestibular input (i.e. the brain relies less upon
this input for balance) occurs automatically. This strategy is useful acutely following a vestibular insult, but
up-weighting of visual information in the long term can cause symptoms of visual vertigo (imbalance or
disorientation in a busy visual environment, or difficulties with reading or computer work). This symptom is
a feature of some uncompensated peripheral vestibular disorders but also a key feature of PPPD. Patients
find it an uncomfortable symptom and if it is appraised as threatening it can lead to the adoption of further
unhelpful behavioural strategies.
A final attentional strategy is the checking and monitoring of the bodily sensations related to
dizziness. In an acute phase such monitoring allows the rapid identification of a threat (in signal detection
theory a ‘hit). However, once the balance control system is operating normally mental checking for balance
sensation increases the likelihood of balance sensation perception, which can trigger the loop of faulty
appraisal (false alarms), threat perception, and further vigilance. In this way patients can become
hypersensitive to symptoms of dizziness. We hypothesise that the additional cognitive load of checking and
monitoring also affects patient’s concentration.
Treatment Implications
Cognitive behavioural treatment for PPPD progresses through a number of stages. Our model
suggests that recovery from PPPD requires change in three areas: alterations in appraisals related to threat
and health, reduction in unhelpful behavioural adaptation strategies, and reduction in unhelpful attentional
strategies. Previous RCT and case study literature supports the use of cognitive behavioural techniques to
promote symptom change in PPPD (e.g. Edelman et al., 2012; Holmberg et al., 2006). Below we describe the
procedures that we have found particularly helpful in work in our clinic, informed by our model.
Psychological Assessment Including Functional Analysis
A psychological assessment of PPPD should begin with a functional analysis:
The triggering event(s) for the patient’s PPPD, or their experience of other significant episodes of
dizziness as well as gathering details of where and when, it is informative to explore a patient’s
understanding of the symptoms at the time as well as later.
Presenting problems how often and for how does the patient experience their dizziness? In PPPD
rotatory vertigo is not typically experienced and patients will report a wide range of non-vertiginous
symptoms such as unsteadiness, lightheadedness, or rocking.
Modifying factors at which times, in which locations or situations, during which activities, or with
which company are the symptoms most and least bothersome?
Appraisals regarding symptoms and the triggering events:
o What did (does) the patient believe was (is) happening?
o What was the patient predicting would happen?
o How do they currently explain what they are feeling?
o (Therapist to attend particularly to threat and health appraisals).
Behavioural adaptations:
o What is the patient doing or not doing in order to cope with how they are feeling?
o Why are they acting (or not acting) in these ways? (Clarify patient’s beliefs and rationale)
o Assess the presence of avoidance or safety behaviours (e.g. holding on for support, changes
in walking behaviour)
Attentional strategies:
o What is the patient paying more (or less) attention to? (E.g. trip hazards, flickering patterns,
inwards towards body sensations).
o Does the patient mentally check on any symptoms or body sensations?
The following areas should also be investigated:
Past mental health history – pay particular attention to the experience of anxiety and panic attacks
Psychosocial factors which may provide context for the current presentation, or which may influence
threat appraisals (e.g. family and work stresses, significant life events).
Biological factors anything which temporally coincided with the dizziness onset (e.g. cold or flu
which may have temporarily affects the vestibular system).
Measures such as the vestibular rehabilitation benefit questionnaire (VRBQ), dizziness handicap
inventory (DHI), and the Nijmegen questionnaire are helpful measures of physiological symptoms. Measures
such as the health anxiety inventory (HAI: Salkovskis et al, 2002) can provide information regarding health
appraisals. Measures of anxiety and depression can also be informative.
Formulation And Rationale For Treatment
Our model is biopsychosocial in nature, incorporating (typically) biological triggering events that
have led to the adoption of behavioural or psychological strategies, which are in turn serving to maintain the
experience of dizziness. A case conceptualization synthesises information from the assessment together with
theory to aid a patient’s understanding of a problem and the mechanisms maintaining it. This guides
selection of treatment approaches. Our approach to conceptualization of PPPD with patients typically
Psychoeducation regarding the balance control system its integration of vestibular, visual, and
somatosensory inputs, and typical outcomes (symptoms, subjective experiences) when inputs
become unreliable.
Psychoeducation about the cognitive behavioural model the links between thoughts (appraisals)
and emotion, how emotions guide behavior, and how actions sometimes have unintended
A summary of the patient’s appraisals regarding their dizziness, their emotional responses, and a
summary of their behavioural and attentional coping strategies.
An exploration of the potential consequences (intended and unintended) of the strategies adopted,
and consideration of alternative coping strategies.
Explore & Update Symptom Origin Appraisals
Patients typically present with purely biological or medical appraisals for their symptoms. In PPPD
medical appraisals for current symptoms will normally be unhelpful because they prompt maladaptive
coping strategies (such as passive waiting for symptom improvement or suppression of balance symptoms
with medication). In addition to a biopsychosocial case formulation and psychoeducation about CBT and
PPPD, behavioural experiments (e.g. hypothesis testing or an interoceptive exposure exercise) can be used to
generate evidence for a behavioural contribution to an experience of a somatic symptom. Helpful outcomes
of this stage include new appraisals that the patient’s actions and focus of attention can influence their
perception of symptoms. In-session behavioural experiments for manipulating attention can be used to
reinforce this point by, for example, attending to symptoms vs. dis-attending from them, or testing the
magnitude of lightheadedness when standing near a support vs. standing in the middle of the room. If the
symptom origin is fixed and organic these conditions should all feel the same. Patient’s understanding of the
results of these experiments should be gently explored, and summaries drawn.
Explore & Update Threat Appraisals
Patients with PPPD typically present with threat appraisals drawn from a limited number of
categories. It is clinically useful to make explicit the individual’s idiosyncratic threat appraisals. Table 2
illustrates a selection of typical threat appraisals and a selection of useful questions to elicit such beliefs and
**Table 2 here**
To update threat appraisals behavioural experiments can be conducted to test their validity. A similar
approach is used in patients with chronic pain maintained by fear and avoidance, where behavioural
experiments have been found to be superior to graded exposure in reducing threat appraisals (Leeuw et al,
2008). Graded exposure to feared stimuli and situations can also act to increase self-efficacy and to reduce
threat appraisals. For PPPD examples of common predictions and experiments are given in table 3.
**Table 3 here**
A selection of typical avoidance and safety behaviours common in PPPD are given in table 4 along
with helpful techniques to address these:
**Table 4 here**
Teach Relaxation Techniques
Dizziness and lightheadedness can be induced by hyperventilation. Diaphragmatic breathing can be
used to counteract the effects of hyperventilation-induced dizziness. If relaxed breathing leads to a reduction
in dizziness it can further reinforce the new appraisal that such symptoms are anxiety-mediated. There has
been debate within the field of panic treatment regarding the efficacy of teaching breathing retraining: a
number of studies have found it helpful, but a dismantling study found that it did not add anything over and
above cognitive restructuring and interoceptive exposure (e.g. Schmidt et al., 2000). In our experience
patients find it helpful, and it may help to facilitate patient approach toward feared situations (Rachman,
Radomsky & Shafran, 2008). PPPD often occurs in patients with high trait anxiety (Staab et al., 2014) and
we hypothesise that relaxation may also reduce symptoms via this route.
Interoceptive Exposure
Interoceptive exposure exercises are designed to facilitate approach towards feared body sensations,
and are a key component in the treatment of panic (Barlow, 2004). Interoceptive exposure exercises, such as
deliberate hyperventilation to induce lightheadedness, are an effective way of changing appraisals about the
origin of bodily symptoms, and about the threat implied by the experiencing of such symptoms. When taught
in combination with relaxed breathing (i.e. the patient learns that they have bidirectional control over the
symptom) such exercises can be a powerful way to shift threat cognitions. In the treatment of panic a number
of interoceptive exposure exercises, such as hyperventilation, spinning in a chair, or vigorously shaking
one’s head, are used to induce a feeling of dizziness. In the case of PPPD, as full compensation has occurred
then exercises including hyperventilation, gentle movements such as slow/moderate head turns (causing
symptoms secondary to increased motion sensitivity), computer screen work (causing symptoms secondary
to visual sensitivity), and standing with eyes closed can be used as a means to safely induce
dizziness/imbalance. Care should be taken with those patients with bilateral hypofunction as, despite
compensation, the patient will always have impaired balance - notably with eyes closed on unstable surfaces.
Reduce Avoidance and Safety Behaviours
Patient’s behavioural adaptations, which include avoidance and safety behaviours, are driven by
their threat appraisals. Patients are reminded that their balance symptoms are maintained through reduction
in activity, and are encouraged to reduce their avoidance and increase their level of activity. Such exposure
exercises may need to be carried out in a graded fashion, eventually leading to the dropping of safety
behaviours. Some patients may find it helpful to be encouraged to identify their emotion and then to act in
opposition to the behaviour it encourages (‘opposite action’: Linehan, 1993).
Exercises To Reduce Visual Vertigo and Motion Sensitivity
Visual vertigo is caused by an automatic up-weighting of visual input to the balance control system
following an acute vestibular event. This is a helpful acute strategy but often persists unhelpfully in patients
with PPPD. Even when compensation has occurred many patients report an increase in symptoms on
head/body movements and when walking. Vestibular rehabilitation plans often include recommendations for
patients to practise head and body movements whilst standing and walking, balance exercises, and gaze
stabilization exercises. With completion of these exercises down-weighting of the visual system often
results. In those for whom visual symptoms persist visual desensitization exercises can be given. Essentially
these are sets of activities, tailored to the individual, that cause mild symptoms of visual vertigo. The
exercises typically need to be done for a number of minutes up to 5 times per day for 8-12 weeks, gradually
increasing in difficulty as the patient’s symptoms subside. Examples in increasing order of stimulation
Looking at a busy visual background e.g. spotty or striped wallpaper
Head turn or nod looking at a letter of the alphabet superimposed upon a busy visual background
Head turn or nod looking at busy visual background
Looking at a moving busy background (e.g. scrolling up and down a computer screen, watching or
playing action computer games)
Head movements with a moving busy background (e.g. moving screen saver)
Looking at a revolving striped umbrella
Graded exposure to real world busy environments can then be added to further promote visual
desensitization. Patients with PPPD often report that they avoid shopping due to visual vertigo symptoms
provoked by supermarket aisles – a graded exposure programme to such environments can therefore be an
effective exercise to reduce visual vertigo. It is important to ensure that the patient is not a migraineur, and to
ensure the exercises do not prematurely overwhelm the visual system, which can sometimes lead to
Sophisticated virtual reality systems have demonstrated efficacy in reducing visual sensitivity
(Pavlou et al., 2004). Recent research indicates that use of the computer game accessoryWii fitas a
rehabilitation tool indicates may be an inexpensive alternative (Verdecchia et al., 2014). Other visual
desensitization options include DVD-based visual/optokinetic stimuli (Pavlou, 2010).
Mindfulness and Acceptance Techniques
Complementing the use of traditional CBT approaches are mindfulness and acceptance
interventions. Practitioners of these third-wave CBT approaches argue that an overarching goal for this work
is to act in the service of valued goals (e.g. living a fulfilling life in spite of a symptom) rather than focusing
on symptom reduction (Bach & Moran, 2008). Instead of cognitive restructuring of unhelpful appraisals
patients might be taught the use of mindfulness or cognitive defusion techniques. Cognitive defusion
strategies might include distancing (“I am noticing that I am having a worry about falling). Regular
mindfulness practice can be used to cultivate non-judging acceptance and there is reasonable evidence that
these approaches are helpful in the treatment of other health conditions such as chronic pain and tinnitus
(Ost, 2014). Many of our patients with PPPD have found them helpful and another study of PPPD included
mindfulness and acceptance approaches as part of a successful treatment programme (Edelman et al, 2012).
Case Example
A fictitious case example is presented below showing how the new model of treatment for PPPD may be
applied in practice.
Ms B was a single woman in her mid-30’s with three young children. Her initial diagnosis had been
one of vestibular neuritis, but when she was seen in the Audiology Balance Clinic no signs of active
pathology were demonstrated meaning that her balance organ function had restored or compensation had
occurred. Despite this, Ms B continued to report symptoms of persistent dizziness that were present even
when stationary. She described these as a rocking or light-headed sensation, and reported that they were
made worse when she moved or when out in a busy visual environment. A diagnosis of otogenic PPPD was
made and Ms B was referred to a psychologist.
Psychological assessment
At assessment with the psychologist a functional assessment was completed. Ms B reported that her
first episode of vertigo had occurred a year previously when she had woken feeling a little nauseous and
generally unwell. She described how she had been bending down to dress her children as normal when she
suddenly experienced a spinning sensation (acute rotatory vertigo) which caused her to vomit and to feel
very frightened. She was unable to walk and had to crawl back to bed. The vertigo continued for a number of
hours during which time she reported feeling that she had tohold on to the bed for fear she would fall even
though she was lying down. She described having worried that there was something seriously medically
wrong with her (health appraisal), and having to call her mother to come and take care of her children.
Within 48 hours she stopped experiencing vertigo while she stayed still but she continued to experience short
lived dizziness and imbalance whenever she moved. She continued to worry about the cause of the dizziness,
tried to avoid movements and situations that evoked it, and admitted to close internal monitoring of her
symptoms. After a few weeks she began to notice dizziness not only when moving but also at a low level
when still. Ms B reported that she had not experienced any further attacks of acute vertigo but that for the
past year in addition to her constant low level symptoms she had experienced exacerbations of what she
described asdizzy attacks when out in public, where she had felt the need to sit down. She expressed
considerable concern about what would happen if she experienced a severe attack in public and worried what
would happen to her children (threat appraisal).
Ms B did not report any previous history of mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
She did not have a significant physical health history. When discussing her family she reported that her
father’s health had always been poor and that this had affected his ability to be a good parentshe was
concerned about this pattern repeating itself in her own life. Behaviourally Ms B had reduced the amount of
physical activity that she would attempt, particularly when on her own or when she was in the sole care of
her children. She tried to keep more still, particularly reducing her head movements, would climb stairs very
carefully, and had made sure to try to reduce trip hazards at home. Her most regular physical activity was
walking her children to school but she would often avoid this by asking a neighbour to take them if she felt
at all unwell, and if she did go herself she would attempt to minimise her anxiety by taking a stroller/buggy
for balance despite her children being too old to need it. She would avoid routes involving busy roads or
uneven surfaces. She would also try to avoid busy locations such as shops, which she found disorienting. She
reported being very mentally aware of her balance and would frequentlycheck in to assess how she was
Ms B reported significant anxiety and feeling very sure that she would fall unless she took
precautions to prevent this from happening. When her psychologist explored her anxious predictions Ms B
was able to describe a mental image of seeing herself collapsed on a pavement unable to get up, and that in
the image her young children were very upset and did not know what to do. Ms B found this image very
upsetting, and reported that she would typically try to mentally avoid it.
Case conceptualisation
The psychologist hypothesised that a number of mechanisms might be operating to maintain Ms B’s
experience of dizziness and heightened anxiety:
Unhelpful cognitive appraisals regarding the nature and consequences of symptoms including her
beliefs regarding the uncontrollability of the events, her inability to cope, and her concern that she
was a bad mother leading to feelings of anxiety and shame.
Classical conditioning the fear Ms B felt during the original episode may have led her to associate
previously neutral physiological stimuli with fear (interoceptive conditioning).
Behavioural avoidance & safety behavioursleaving her with fewer opportunities to disconfirm
anxious predictions about the likelihood of catastrophe, reinforcing the idea that she was a bad
mother, and possibly leading to unintentionally greater perception of balance symptoms.
Thought suppression of the unpleasant imagined image may have led torebound and increased
perception of this unwanted cognition (Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000).
Attentional strategies including attending to the minutiae of her interoceptive experience meant that
she was more prone to notice bodily experiences, then to mis-appraise them and experience anxiety.
Central up-weighting of visual information by her balance control system (an automatic process)
could have been contributing to experiences of visual vertigo.
A case conceptualization was developed collaboratively with Ms B during which the psychologist was
able to provide information about the balance control system (with reiteration that her balance system was
functioning normally after a transient disruption) and psychoeducation regarding the CBT model. The
psychologist summarised Ms B’s threat appraisals and anxious predictions, and together they explored how
these can lead to feelings of anxiety. Her feelings informed discussion of her behavioural (e.g. safety
behaviours), cognitive (e.g. worrying, askingwhat if …’ questions), and attentional (e.g. symptom
monitoring, central up-weighting) coping strategies the intended and unintended consequences of each of
these actions were explored.
Treatment & Challenges
An agreed treatment plan was developed from the case conceptualization. A provisional plan was to
first attend to Ms B’s unhelpful health and threat appraisals, teach relaxation techniques to manage anxiety,
work to reduce her use of avoidance and safety behaviours, and then work to reduce her use of unhelpful
attentional strategies. Three treatment sessions were initially negotiated, and a further three agreed before
treatment was completed. Ms B attended all sessions, and the main block of treatment was completed within
two months.
Behavioural experiments and guided discovery were used to test the effects of distraction and of
directing attention towards and away from balance symptoms. Short experiments were conducted in-session
while sitting and standing. In these Ms B was encouraged to direct her attention towards how she felt
(interoceptive attention), or to describe topics such as her favourite holiday or the surroundings in the room
(distraction / external attention). These exercises, followed by socratic questioning, led Ms B to generate new
health appraisals If I pay less attention to it I’m less bothered by it and If this was a permanent disorder
of my inner ear then distraction would not make it better. Cognitive restructuring and soothing self-talk
were practised to increase coping self-efficacy. Time was spent examining the likelihood of catastrophic
consequences and the likelihood of not being able to summon help should a catastrophe occur, and Ms B
became more adept atdecatastrophising’. She and the therapist developed a ‘worst case plan to increase her
sense of coping efficacy. Despite cognitive work leaving her feeling stronger Ms B reported that she
continued to experience an intrusive image of a worst-case scenario in which her children were distressed,
and so an imagery rescripting technique was used to address the distress associated with Ms B’s intrusive
image of helplessness.
Interoceptive exposure exercises (hyperventilating) were used to expose Ms B to uncomfortable
body sensations. She was able to do these in the therapy room but initially avoided doing the agreed
exercises as homework. Similarly, behavioural experiments were conducted near the office to test the belief
“I will fall and a graded exposure hierarchy was developed, but Ms B avoided doing this work at home.
She reported finding these exercises too threatening and she and the therapist struggled to generate suitable
intermediate steps for a graded exposure hierarchy that would enable her to initiate the practice. To address
Ms B’s difficulty in initiating self-practice a second set of experiments were conducted in a local park. These
tasks including walking and running on smooth and rough surfaces, hopping on and off curb stones, and
running in straight lines. The therapist had to use a combination of hopeful enthusiasm and genuine curiosity
to encourage Ms B to explore the effects of movement upon her symptoms, and the limits of her abilities.
Initial success was an opportunity for more encouragement and further experimentation. These experiments
were made more challenging by combining them with altered body sensations produced by deliberate
(initially mild) hyperventilation. New appraisals were generated and tested: Even if I am feeling unbalanced
I am able to make quite extreme movements without falling. Increased feelings of self-efficacy allowed her
to access more positive appraisals. Some of these were contained within imagery which allowed her to
quickly access summary versions of helpful appraisals (e.g. image of a time she had previously coped with
adversity to encapsulate the idea Even if the worst does happen I will be able to cope). Challenges
involved in this session included requiring a longer session, maintaining a curious stance/attitude, and
containing the clients anxiety in the face of experiences she found threatening. Reflecting later upon the
therapy Ms B reported that this out-of-office session had been the most confidence-building.
Ms B was encouraged to practice the in-session work at home with the agreement that to begin with
self-practice would be less extreme than the exercises she had already completed successfully in therapy
sessions. Exposure exercises were designed to encourage more physical activity, building up to a return to
her pre-illness levels. Ms B was able to engage with these with the support of her mother, after in-session
rehearsal, and with repeated gentle encouragement. Over time she was also encouraged to reduce her use of
safety strategies. Homework tasks included walking her children to school without a stroller/buggy for
support, testing and measuring the effects of keeping her head less still, and re-engaging in light exercise.
Review And Follow-Up
At one-month follow-up Ms B reported that she had resumed activities such as taking her children to
school and had begun attending a yoga class. She reported that her anxiety had reduced significantly. She
described how she still intermittently experienced symptoms of visual vertigo, and that although they were
not accompanied by significant threat appraisals they were still unwelcome. She was reassured that these
experiences were a consequence of heightened visual sensitivity (visual up-weighting) and that they were
not an indication of any underlying abnormality. She was informed that they would typically resolve with
exposure to normal movement and that they were often the last symptom in PPPD to full remit. She was
given some written psychoeducational material, a set of visual desensitization exercises, and was taught a
simple mindful breathing technique to practice non-judgmental acceptance of her somatic and cognitive
Summary and Empirical Support
A cognitive behavioural model of persistent postural-perceptual dizziness is presented together with
suggested treatment targets. In PPPD an acute dysfunction of the peripheral vestibular system (or an anxiety
reaction) causes rotatory vertigo or severe loss of balance, with heightened threat perception and subsequent
adoption of behavioral strategies (automatic and voluntary) to keep the patient safe. Once the acute
vestibular disorder (or anxiety reaction) has resolved or compensated patients with PPPD report persistent
non-vertiginous dizziness, heightened threat perception, and have motion and visual sensitivity. This is due
in part to failure to dispose of acute behavioral strategies and results in increased awareness of balance
symptoms that continue to be interpreted as threatening. Safety strategies and avoidance serve to maintain
unhelpful appraisals that further maintain the perception of balance symptoms as a threat. The proposed
model is consistent with the main clinical features of PPPD, and provides a framework for treatment by
identifying three key targets for change: unhelpful appraisals, avoidance and safety behaviours, and
unhelpful attentional strategies. Components of the present model are present in other disorder models
including health anxiety (Salkovskis & Warwick, 1986, Stern & Drummond, 1991; Salkovskis, Warwick &
Deale, 2003), panic (Clark, 1986), and cognitive behavioural models of chronic pain (Lethem et al, 1983;
Vlaeyen & Linton, 2000; Sharp, 2001). The present formulation may best be considered a dizziness-specific
implementation of a health anxiety model.
The Efficacy of CBT in the Treatment of PPPD
The treatment approaches suggested by this model already have demonstrated efficacy for PPPD. A
cognitive-behavioural treatment protocol with similarities to that identified here, implemented in 3 sessions,
was used in a randomised trial of CBT for PPPD (Edelman et al., 2012). It used techniques which targeted
patient’s unhelpful appraisals, and encouraged patients to reduce unhelpful behavioural and attentional
strategies. Significant reductions in dizziness were demonstrated post treatment, with 75% of patients
reporting clinically significant reductions in handicap associated with dizziness. Significant positive
behavioural changes were also reported post-treatment. These improvements were maintained at one-year
follow-up (Mahoney et al., 2013).
A long-term follow-up of PPPD patients in a neurology clinic who were given short-term
interventions targeting psychoeducation, decatastrophising, and exposure to vertigo-inducing situations
found that 75% of patients showed improvements in their symptoms (Huppert et al., 2005). A non-
randomised trial comparing vestibular rehabilitation exercises to individualised CBT in patients self-
managing their CSD found that although both groups led to improvements in vertigo severity, the addition of
CBT led to additional improvements in vertigo handicap, depression and anxiety (Holmberg et al., 2006)
although in this case improvements were not maintained at one-year follow-up (Holmberg et al., 2007).
Case report data have also suggested that cognitive-behavioural techniques may be efficacious in the
treatment of PPPD. For example, Sardinha (2009) presented a case study of a patient who responded to a
combination of medication, psychoeducation, experiments to test beliefs around the effects of attending to
symptoms, and graded exposure to previous daily activities. Symptom relief was reported to occur within 9
weeks. There is also some evidence that CBT and associated techniques are helpful in treating dizziness
more broadly than just PPPD. Naber et al (2011) offered a group treatment to dizzy patients in a neurology
clinic which included cognitive behavioural, mindfulness and vestibular rehabilitation exercises. They found
improvements in patient symptoms, and a decrease in patient utilisation of clinic services.
Clinical Recommendations And Guidelines
Techniques for the treatment of PPPD fall within the skills mix of professionals qualified in
delivering cognitive behavioural therapy, or vestibular clinical scientists who have received additional
training in cognitive and behavioural treatment. Our service operates a stepped-care approach. Patients have
a diagnosis of PPPD confirmed at an outpatient balance clinic. Those with simpler presentations receive
psychoeducation and guidance for self-directed exercises in sessions in this service. Patients with more
complex presentations or comorbidities are stepped up to interventions with a clinical psychologist in an
outpatient psychology clinic, or to a balance specialist with an interest in CBT where they receive more
traditional CBT interventions with individualised case formulations. Edelman et al (2012) report effective
treatment for PPPD in 3 sessions with an experienced clinical psychologist. In our experience although many
patients do respond this quickly, others with more entrenched difficulties or comorbidities require a longer
and more case-formulation-driven approach. Honacker et al (2013) report a case example of a client with
otogenic PPPD, pre-existing generalized anxiety and hypochondriasis-type health anxiety who required a
longer-term (1 year) treatment intervention.
A common clinical question regards the decision about which maintaining mechanism to address
first. There is little evidence to support a particular course and so therapists must rely upon their clinical
judgement. Our experience of working with this patient group would prompt us to make the following
recommendations: (1) the component of treatment from which patients typically make the largest therapeutic
gains is in tackling behavioural avoidance, (2) patients with higher levels of anxiety and poorer self-soothing
abilities may benefit from a longer initial period of cognitive and emotional regulation work (e.g. cognitive
restructuring, decatastrophising, relaxation exercises) before they are able to engage in behaviourally focused
tasks, (3) symptoms of visual vertigo sometimes remain after otherwise successful treatment reassurance
and visual desensitization exercises have helped many of our patients, (4) in patients with comorbid anxiety
disorders problem prioritization and a case formulation are necessary to negotiate a treatment plan (Persons,
2012), (5) where symptoms do not remit and where it has been difficult to exclude a diagnosis of an
uncompensated vestibular problem re-assessment of vestibular function can be helpful the patients may
need more formal and intensive vestibular rehabilitation.
Preventing PPPD
We believe that many cases of PPPD could be prevented by timely education about the true causes
of dizziness-related symptoms combined with early opportunities for vestibular rehabilitation. The following
recommendations have been developed from a combination of our respective clinical practices as a balance
specialist and clinical psychologist, as predictions from cognitive behavioural models of health anxiety, and
from research concerning iatrogenic effects in conditions such as chronic pain. Research formally examining
preventative strategies for PPPD should be considered a priority.
Early identification of those who may be at increased risk of developing PPPD followed by
prioritization for testing and individualised rehabilitation would seem prudent. Even where a specialist
balance assessment is required to rule out organic pathology primary care practitioners are in a good position
to identify psychosocial contributors to a patients distress and to normalize psychological reactions to
unpleasant symptoms. This can be accomplished through psychometric measures of health appraisals / health
anxiety (e.g. the HAI: Salkovskis et al., 2002), measures of anxiety or depression, or simple questions about
life circumstances. Given the central role of negative (health) appraisals in health anxiety models such as
ours early delivery of accurate information about the operation of the balance system and likely symptoms
(e.g. Yardley, 2015) may reduce the likelihood of a patient going on to develop PPPD.
Although commonly prescribed vestibular suppressants (e.g. Prochlorperazine maleate) are useful in
abating symptoms in the acute phase of a vestibular disorder such as vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis their
longer-term administration will only serve to prevent compensation and cause continuation of movement-
evoked dizziness (Rascol et al, 1995). This in turn may consolidate avoidance of evocative movements and
situations, continued symptoms, and repeated return visits to the primary care physician. If symptoms and
fears about their cause are not addressed then persistent dizziness may result. Medical recommendation is
that when patients present in primary care with a known acute vestibular disorder, such as vestibular neuritis
then vestibular suppressants should be given for a few days only. There should be no need to prescribe such
medication for BPPV. Medication where given should always be accompanied by education (verbal and
written) regarding the likely cause of the dizziness symptoms and how to obtain resolution (e.g. Yardley,
Resolution of an acute vestibular disorder will commonly either require vestibular rehabilitation
(exercises to gently evoke symptoms of dizziness and to promote compensation in cases of vestibular
neuritis) or particle repositioning maneuvers such as the Epley maneuver for BPPV. If it is possible then
treatment of a precipitating vestibular condition should be given (or at least initiated) by the primary care
physician. Research has demonstrated that vestibular rehabilitation exercises can be successfully
administered by nurses in primary care settings (Yardley et al, 2004). In cases where the diagnosis is unclear,
in patients with suspected Meniere’s disease or migraine, or in patients at higher risk of developing PPPD
(such as those with a significant history of anxiety disorders), a timely referral should be made for balance
function testing and appropriate rehabilitation should be made.
Empirical Support And Testable Predictions
There is some experimental research supporting propositions in the present model. The central role
of appraisals in the development of PPPD-like conditions is supported by several lines of evidence. In a
piece of prospective research Godemann et al (2006) assessed the cognitions of patients presenting at
hospital clinics for the first time with vestibular neuritis and symptoms of vertigo and nausea before
following these patients for two years to monitor the development of panic or somatoform disorders
(relatively good proxy diagnoses for PPPD). They found that while initial vertigo severity was not correlated
with the later development of a disorder, patients who exhibited intense preoccupation with the causes and
consequences of their vertigo went on to experience significantly more difficulty. Similarly, Heinrichs et al
(2007) found that an interaction betweenfear of bodily sensationsand the severity of an attack of
vestibular neuritis predicted an experience of chronic dizziness 3 months later, and Yardley (1994) found
that in a population of patients suffering from vestibular disorder the factorsfear of losing control and
increased autonomic symptoms predicted later handicap in these patients.
A number of key questions exist regarding PPPD. For example, given the demonstrated anxiolytic
effect of SSRI’s (Hoffman & Mathew, 2008), the central role of threat perception and anxiety in our model
may explain why such pharmacological interventions have demonstrated efficacy in PPPD (Staab et al.,
2002; 2004). However, the role of anxiety in PPPD needs further research given the mixed pattern of anxiety
outcomes in earlier treatment studies (Holmberg et al., 2006; Edelman et al., 2012). Our model would predict
heightened anxiety specifically with respect to balance and balance symptoms. We would predict that
patients with PPPD, like those with health anxiety, will be more likely to appraise ambiguous body
sensations or medical information in a catastrophic manner and will score more highly on a measure of
health anxiety than other vestibular patients. We would also predict that, similar to patients with panic, those
with PPPD will be more sensitive to internal bodily sensations than control patients with other vestibular
Finally, and in agreement with Staab (2011), our model predicts that ‘vestibular-rehabilitation-like’
exercises will be helpful in cases of PPPD even where there is no active vestibular disorder, due to the
heightened sensitivity of PPPD patients to motion. Completion of such exercises will act to reduce
behavioural avoidance and provide exposure to threatening body sensations (interoceptive exposure), thereby
promoting habituation to the symptoms. This will lead to or be moderate by changes in appraisals related to
balance. Dismantling studies are recommended to assess the relative contributions of the three key targets for
change identified by our model (cognitive appraisals, behavioural adaptations, attentional adaptations). We
plan to conduct small-N multiple baseline designs in our clinic to assess change in these factors.
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Clinical features of PPPD
Persistent sensations of unsteadiness and/or non-vertiginous dizziness lasting 3 or more months
Symptoms are present on more days than not (at least 15 of last 30 days)
Symptoms worsen with: upright posture, head or body motion, exposure to complex or motion-rich
Symptoms lessen or are absent in a reclined or resting posture
Absence of currently active medical or neurological condition, or use of medication, that may cause dizziness
Results from radiographic imaging exclude significant anatomical lesions
Findings from balance function tests are within normal limits, reveal deficits not believed to be currently
active, or cannot fully explain all of the patients symptoms
Table 1: Symptoms of (PPPD) described by Staab & Ruckenstein (2007) and Staab (2012)
Typical threat appraisals
Useful questions to elicit specific threat appraisals
Concern about short-term implications of the
symptoms (e.g. falling)
Concern about long-term implications of the
symptoms (e.g. unable to return to work)
Concern about embarrassment (e.g. having a
further vertigo attack and vomiting in public)
Concern about not being helped, or being unable to
get help should a catastrophe (e.g. further vertigo
attack) arise
If you get dizzy do you think it will last for a long
time, perhaps like your original vertigo attack, or
will it pass quickly?
What are the consequences for you if you get
(Variations, when you are: alone, in
company, at home, outside)
What anxious predictions do you make when
youre worried?
Table 2: Typical threat appraisals in PPPD and useful questions to elicit these
Behavioural experiment
Unless I hold on for support I will fall (catastrophe)
Relinquish acute balance control strategies
If I walk along a rough, bumpy, path I will fall and
get hurt (catastrophe)
Walk along a variety of surfaces to test the
prediction of falling
If I walk in a visually busy environment I will get
overwhelmed and fall (catastrophe)
Walk in a variety of environments to test the
prediction of falling
If I’m feeling unsteady everyone will notice, will
think I’m drunk, and will ostracise me (social threat)
Therapist and patient to walk in public in normal and
exaggerated ways. Patient to be given opportunities
to observe the reactions of other people
I can’t walk in a straight line and people will think
I’m crazy (social threat)
Record the straightness of the patient and therapist’s
walks. Monitor the reactions of strangers during
exaggerated walking
Table 3: A selection of anxious predictions in PPPD and behavioural experiments to test these
Avoidance & safety behaviours
Techniques to address these
Limitation of head movement, or keeping head very
still or upright
Behavioural experiments to test whether the effects
of head motion are as catastrophic as expected
Graded exposure to head motion (of which typical
vestibular rehabilitation exercises may form a part)
Avoidance of anything which produces dizziness
Psychoeducation about the balance system, the
causes for dizziness, and the vestibular system’s
need for input for recalibration
Relaxation exercises to reduce anxiety which
sometimes contributes to dizziness (such relaxation
exercises can also engender a feeling of control)
Interoceptive exposure exercises
Use of safety behaviours to prevent anticipated falls
(use of a stick, walking near something grab-able)
Behavioural experiments to test whether
catastrophic outcomes occur
Graded exposure to exercises
Avoidance of visual stimulation
Visual desensitization exercises (e.g. computer
games with fast motion)
Exposure to visually stimulating environments
combined with relaxation exercises
Table 4: Common avoidance and safety behaviours in PPPD, and techniques to address these
Figure 1: Cognitive behavioral model of persistent postural-perceptual dizziness
Vulnerability Triggers for current episode
balance sensations
dysfunction resulting in
adaptation strategies
adaptation strategies
sensations related to balance
Initial or precipitating phase of PPPD Persistent phase of PPPD
Initially: Later:
Vulnerability Triggers for current episode
balance sensations
dysfunction resulting in
adaptation strategies
adaptation strategies
sensations related to balance
Initially: Later:
... Most research examining safety behaviours was related to chronic physical illnesses for which a clear diagnostic test is absent, sometimes described in the literature as 'medically unexplained symptoms'. These include conditions such as chronic pain (Sharp, 2001;Tang et al., 2007), persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD; Edelman, Mahoney, & Cremer, 2012, Whalley & Cane, 2017, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS; Nijs et al., 2013), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; Windgassen, Moss-Morris, Goldsmith, & Chalder, 2019), where the absence of confirmatory testing for the presence of a disease process has historically led to the search for psychological mechanisms associated with the condition. Even in these conditions, safety behaviours are not emphasized in theoretical explanations nor in therapeutic protocols in the way that they have been in people without a chronic health condition. ...
... Overall, there is relatively little literature discussing safety behaviours in the context of other physical illnesses outside of chronic pain. One of the few models of anxiety in physical conditions to explicitly argue that safety behaviours play a key role in maintaining symptoms is the cognitive-behavioural model of persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD) (Whalley & Cane, 2017). This model describes safety behaviours that aim to reduce the risk of falling due to dizziness, such as holding on for support or using walking aids, changing walking behaviour (e.g. ...
... taking smaller steps, walking close to walls), and seeking companions for outings. While models for PPPD emphasize the importance of safety behaviours (Whalley & Cane, 2017) and efficacious interventions target safety behaviours (e.g. Edelman et al., 2012), there are some circumstances in which these behaviours may be warranted. ...
Avoidance is a hallmark symptom and a primary maintaining factor in anxiety disorders. Theories of anxiety disorders have focused not only on overt avoidance, but also on more subtle avoidance known as ‘safety behaviours’. Safety behaviours involve behaviours which aim to reduce anxiety or prevent a feared outcome from occurring. In the long-term, however, these behaviours prevent the disconfirmation of threat because safety is incorrectly attributed to the safety behaviour, thus perpetuating anxiety. As a result, reducing or eliminating safety behaviours is an important target for many cognitive behaviourally oriented treatments. Notably, despite the relevance of anxiety to people with chronic health problems, the role of safety behaviours is rarely discussed in these contexts. Further, safety behaviours among those with chronic health problems pose a particularly complex problem. Distinguishing adaptive safety precautions from maladaptive safety behaviours can be a difficult task. In this paper, we discuss the role of safety behaviours in maintaining and treating anxiety problems in healthy adults, and whether these same principles apply to those with chronic illness. We propose a functional and contextual model of differentiating between safety behaviours and safety precautions amongst those with chronic physical illness. Lastly, we propose methods for adapting the treatment of anxiety disorders in the context of chronic physical illness.
... Despite much recent research on PPPD in adults (12,14,(16)(17)(18)(19)(20)(21)(22)(23)(24)(25)(26), descriptions of this disorder in the pediatric population have been very limited in the medical literature to date. Many providers caring for children and adolescents with dizziness may be unaware of this important diagnosis, which could delay effective treatment. ...
... Our study found that pediatric diagnoses of PPPD are most common in adolescent women. Previous studies have found the typical adult age range for this diagnosis to be between 40 and 60 years of age and increasingly more common in women than in men (24,26). The role of anxiety may be a factor in women and in the identified age ranges, as anxiety disorders have been found to be more common in women than in men and have similar age peaks (42). ...
... The central role of psychological factors in the development of PPPD are reflected in the utilization of the two most commonly described management strategies for PPPD and anxiety disorders, namely cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) therapy, though the benefits of SSRI therapy in PPPD likely extend beyond their psychological benefits alone (7). A number of studies have demonstrated that these treatments play an important role in the management of PPPD and its predecessor subtypes, particularly chronic subjective dizziness, visual vertigo, and phobic postural vertigo (7,18,24,(45)(46)(47). ...
Objective: Persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD) is a recently defined diagnostic syndrome characterized by chronic symptoms of dizziness, unsteadiness, and/or non-spinning vertigo. Although PPPD has been studied in adults, reports in the pediatric population are few. The goal of this study was to describe the presentation and treatment of PPPD in a group of pediatric patients. Study design: Retrospective chart review. Setting: Tertiary referral center. Patients: ≤21 years old, who met Bárány Society consensus criteria for a diagnosis of PPPD and were followed for ≥6 months or until symptom resolution. Main outcome measuress: Patient demographics, comorbidities, symptom chronicity, and response to treatment(s). Results: Of the 53 patients identified, 44 (83.0%) were women. Mean age at the time of initial evaluation was 14.6 years old. Common diagnoses in addition to PPPD included benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (64.2%), vestibular migraine (56.6%), and anxiety (28.3%). A high proportion of patients (43.4%) reported initially missing school or work due to their symptoms. Eighteen patients (34.0%) reported symptom resolution ranging from 2 to 48 months after diagnosis (median 9 mo). Of these patients, 15 of 18 attended physical therapy (PT), 11 of 18 attended cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or biofeedback therapy, and 10 of 18 took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications, and 7 of 18 (40%) did a combination of all three therapies. Conclusion: PPPD can impact patients at a young age, and prolonged symptoms present a significant burden to children and adolescents, many of whom are unable to attend school. Treatments such as PT, CBT, and SSRI medication may be effective.
... On the one hand, increased self-motion perception, and thus, heightened instability, may result from a mismatch between expected (efferent) and actual (afferent) motion signals [13][14][15]. This may relate to a reduced tolerance for errors between estimates and sensory inputs [16]. Indeed, it has been suggested that the brain uses generative models to actively construct explanations to infer the causes of sensory inputs, such that the brain's internal model of the external world is optimised to provide predictable sensory inputs [17,18]. ...
Full-text available
Persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD) is a common cause of chronic dizziness associated with significant morbidity, and perhaps constitutes the commonest cause of chronic dizziness across outpatient neurology settings. Patients present with altered perception of balance control, resulting in measurable changes in balance function, such as stiffening of postural muscles and increased body sway. Observed risk factors include pre-morbid anxiety and neuroticism and increased visual dependence. Following a balance-perturbing insult (such as vestibular dysfunction), patients with PPPD adopt adaptive strategies that become chronically maladaptive and impair longer-term postural behaviour. In this article, we explore the relationship between behavioural postural changes, perceptual abnormalities, and imaging correlates of such dysfunction. We argue that understanding the pathophysiological mechanisms of PPPD necessitates an integrated methodological approach that is able to concurrently measure behaviour, perception, and cortical and subcortical brain function.
... A pilot study also showed that patients had experienced normalisation in their postural behaviour [19]. Although there is limited direct evidence of improvement, patients may receive help with noticeable fear of dizziness or falling by going through CBT [20]. Moreover, clinical experience recently backed reports suggesting the use of variety of interventions including CBT, medication, and vestibular rehabilitation, depending on the patient's need and treatment preferences. ...
Full-text available
Persistent and inconsistent unsteadiness with nonvertiginous dizziness (persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD)) could negatively impact quality of life. This study highlights that the use of virtual reality (VR) systems offers bimodal benefits to PPPD, such as understanding symptoms and providing a basis for treatment. The aim is to develop an understanding of PPPD and its interventions, including current trends of VR involvement to extrapolate and re-evaluate VR design strategies. Therefore, recent virtual-reality-based research work that progressed in understanding PPPD is identified, collected, and analysed. This study proposes a novel approach to the understanding of PPPD, specifically for VR technologists, and examines the principles of effectively aligning VR development for PPPD interventions.
... Cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) starts with patient education also termed as ''psychoeducation''. Treatment should be aimed at reducing the handicap rather than just reducing the symptoms [15]. CBT has shown better improvement in patients when compared to exercise alone group [16]. ...
Notwithstanding current understanding of vertigo, there are various clinical scenarios which are intriguing for clinicians, where patients have been too symptomatic but the presentation does not fit into any diagnosis. We stumbled upon a new entity during literature search known as Persistent Postural Perceptual Dizziness (PPPD). It fills the lacuna where we are often left wanting for diagnosis in the existing pool of knowledge. This case series has been prepared keeping in view the lack of data regarding PPPD in Indian population. For better understanding we present the illustration of our patients in this case series. We presented the details of three patients who were diagnosed as PPPD and managed effectively and followed up for one year. The nomenclature portrays the core concept of dizziness. The diagnostic criteria clearly define PPPD. It should not be used as escape or exclusion diagnosis. Our case series highlights various presentation of, not so uncommon, PPPD in Indian population. The case series has been brought out to address the deficiency of knowledge in dealing with intriguing vertigo. Careful thorough history is important to reach a diagnosis and avoids unwarranted vestibular sedatives. It highlights that proper counselling and vestibular rehabilitation can help the patients overcome their chronic disability.
... This fits with our model, where an experience of one or more falls may have led to the expectation of falling within certain conditions. The idea of a functional disorder developing as a result of a similar physical experience has been highlighted previously [25], for example, with motor or sensory symptoms often being preceded by an injury [26,27] or persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD) being precipitated by a defined vestibular disorder such as vestibular neuronitis [28,29]. ...
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Idiopathic drop attacks are falls to the floor, without warning, and without loss of consciousness, for which the cause is uncertain. They are poorly studied but recent research suggests that many idiopathic drop attacks may be usefully considered within the spectrum of functional neurological disorder (FND). The aim of this study was to test a cognitive behavioural model of idiopathic drop attacks, in order to inform formulation and treatment. Interviews and diaries were completed by seven individuals experiencing drop attacks, and were analysed using a grounded theory qualitative data approach. Through the coding and synthesis of data into themes, a proposed cognitive behavioural model was identified, with a main precipitating event in all cases being a fall related to another cause, such as a mechanical fall or a fall due to medical reasons. Additional precipitating factors identified included situational triggers, high levels of stress, and dissociation. A maintaining cycle of thoughts, emotion and behaviour is outlined. Our proposed theory is consistent with current cognitive behavioural models of FND. A cognitive behavioural understanding of drop attacks when considered part of FND aids formulation in clinical practice, and suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy interventions for FND may also be applicable in this population.