Definition of dizziness
Dizziness can range from a fleeting, momentary sensation to a severe loss of balance disorder that makes normal functioning impossible. Nearly half of all adults will have an episode of dizziness serious enough to send them to the doctor.
Dizziness generally refers to three specific sensations:
- Faintness. One type of dizziness is described as feeling lightheaded, as if you might pass out.
- Loss of balance. Another type of dizziness is characterized by feeling unsteady on your feet, as if you might fall.
- Vertigo. With vertigo, you feel as if the world is spinning around you or that you yourself are spinning.
Describing your dizziness as precisely as possible will make it easier for your doctor to diagnose the cause and treat it.
Causes of dizziness
The causes of dizziness are as varied as its symptoms. Dizziness can result from something as simple as motion sickness — the queasy feeling that you get on hairpin roads and roller coasters. Or it can be caused by complicated problems with the balance mechanism in your inner ear. Dizziness is also a rare sign of certain serious disorders such as stroke and diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Generally, however, dizziness in the absence of any other symptoms is almost always caused by something less worrisome.
Some causes of dizziness include:
Inner ear problems
Many cases of dizziness are caused by problems that affect the balance mechanism in your inner ear. Examples include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
- Ear infection (middle ear)
- Meniere’s disease
- Motion sickness
Reduced blood flow
Dizziness can be caused if your brain doesn’t receive enough blood. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis
- Heart arrhythmias
- Orthostatic hypotension (postural hypotension)
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
Some types of drugs cause dizziness, including some varieties of:
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Drugs to control high blood pressure
Other causes of dizziness
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic attacks
When to see a doctor
Dizziness is often temporary and goes away on its own. These self-care tips may help:
- Move slowly. When you stand up from lying down, move slowly. Many people experience dizziness if they stand up too quickly.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Staying well hydrated can help prevent or relieve several types of dizziness.
- Avoid caffeine and tobacco. By restricting blood flow, these substances can make symptoms worse.
Schedule a doctor’s appointment
Call your doctor if your dizziness is accompanied by:
- A new, different or severe headache
- Falling or trouble walking
- Hearing loss
Seek emergency medical care
Dizziness can be a symptom of a serious medical problem, such as a heart attack or a stroke. Call 911 or have someone drive you to the emergency department if your dizziness is associated with:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in your vision or speech
- Serious head injury
- Leg or arm weakness
- Loss of consciousness that lasts more than just a few minutes