by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A daughter wrote:
I am very concerned for my 78-year old mother. She was prescribed Diclofenac for 15 days, then complained of severe tinnitus on Day 16, and was overcome by a severe attack of vertigo on Day 17, lasting 4 days. When she could finally walk (with a great deal of help), the Dr. noted severe hearing loss in her right ear. An MRI did not indicate a tumor or any sign of stroke.
Now, 9 weeks later, she no longer complains of dizziness and her gait is better, but she is very fatigued and nauseous to the point of vomiting 2 to 3 times a week. Of most concern is her mental confusion and short term memory problems, which have only become apparent since the vertigo attack. Can all of this be due to the Diclofenac?
Drugs can, and do, cause a number of unwanted side effects such as your mother is experiencing that can flip her world upside down in an instant.
Diclofenac, one of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, is definitely ototoxic to some people and can cause hearing loss, tinnitus, dizziness, vertigo and ear pain. Unfortunately, it seems your mom got 4 out of 5. In addition, she has memory loss, mental confusion, vomiting and fatigue. Not nice at all.
The Diclofenac apparently damaged both her cochlear (hearing) system causing the hearing loss and tinnitus, and her vestibular (balance) system causing the dizziness, vertigo and other weird side effects.
Let me explain what likely happened to her balance system as that seems to be giving her the most problems at this time.
Your balance system comprises three entirely different systems that your brain uses to keep you erect. These are the balance parts of your inner ears (vestibular system), your eyes, and your proprioceptive system (pressure sensors in your legs and feet). If all three systems send the same (or complementary) balance information to your brain, all is well. However, if one system suddenly begins sending “garbage,” this immediately confuses your brain and typically vertigo (a spinning sensation) and vomiting is the result.
After some weeks, your brain learns to largely ignore the bad balance signals. When it does that, the vertigo typically goes away. At this point, you might think your balance system is recovering, but not so. It is still just as damaged. However, your brain is learning how to work around this damage.
Few people realize that damage to your vestibular system can also result in the problems your mom is now experiencing–namely short term memory problems, mental confusion and fatigue. Here’s how these relate to your balance system.
Keeping your balance is largely a subconscious activity. You don’t have to consciously think about varying the pressure on your toes to keep yourself from falling over. The subconscious parts of your brain automatically take care of this for you. However, when your vestibular system is damaged, the subconscious balance system no longer works properly. In fact, often you have to consciously work to maintain your balance.
When you do this, you use the conscious parts of your brain that you normally use for thinking and memory functions. So, instead of being used exclusively for thinking and memory functions, the conscious parts of your brain are now busy helping you maintain your balance. As a result, your conscious brain doesn’t have enough “brain power” left over to properly do its real job. The result is that your short term memory becomes erratic, and you become confused because you can’t remember instructions, or even what someone was just talking about.
In addition, all this extra conscious effort to maintain your balance is tiring. Hence the fatigue. Furthermore, because of the hearing loss, your brain now has to work much harder in order to understand speech–and this too is very tiring.
These are just a few of the many different effects that damaging your balance system can have on your body. For a more in-depth overview of the many ototoxic side effects of drugs, see Chapter 3 in “Ototoxic Drugs Exposed.”
Few people realize just how far-reaching the effects of drugs can be on our bodies. If they did, they wouldn’t be so quick to take drugs for every little ailment, but save drugs for life-threatening conditions. Learn about drugs before you take them. You don’t have to let drugs flip your world upside down.