Factors predicting handicap and distress were examined in a longitudinal study of 101 patients suffering from recurrent vertigo (dizziness). Analysis of a questionnaire assessing coping strategies yielded four distinct individualised coping styles: problem-focused information-seeking; distraction; denial; and relinquishing responsibility. After controlling for the severity of physical and psychological symptoms and distress, handicap was negatively related to internal locus of control and positively correlated with relinquishing responsibility. Symptoms of somatic anxiety predicted an increase in handicap over a 7 month period, while handicap and somatic anxiety symptoms predicted an increase in distress. These results are interpreted in terms of a reciprocal causal relationship between handicap and distress, mediated partly by somatic symptoms. Parallels with pain, panic and phobia suggest that patients with vertigo might benefit from psychological therapies.