Dizziness

1 Dizziness Summary

Dizziness, giddiness or light-headedness, is a very common symptom associated with several medical conditions. Dizziness is typically associated with sensations such as feeling unsteady or woozy. It is also one of the most common reasons individuals visit their doctors.

In most cases, dizziness does not indicate an underlying severe condition. However, in a few instances, it may be a sign of a potentially life-threatening condition.

Dizziness tends to create a false sense of spinning/floating, feeling faint, feeling unsteady, or feeling lightheaded. It can be triggered by walking or exercising. It may even worsen with a few physical activities.

Dizziness can be sudden or even severe. In most cases, it may even be accompanied by nausea. An episode of dizziness may last for seconds or days. It may even recur.

2 When to seek help

  • Severe headache – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by a severe headache, this may be an indication of a severe condition. It is important that you consult with your doctor right away. They can perform a few medical examinations and provide you with an accurate diagnosis of the underlying medical condition that is causing you to experience both dizziness and headache.
  • Vomiting – There are a range of medical conditions that can cause you to be experiencing dizziness accompanied by frequent vomiting. Such an example is pregnancy. Consult with your doctor and have him or her provide you with an accurate diagnosis of the underlying medical condition.
  • Difficulty walking – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by difficulties in simple motor skills such as walking, then this may be an indication of a more severe health issue. Consult with your doctor right away so that he or she can provide you with an accurate diagnosis – one that pinpoints the root cause of your current condition and can treat the same.
  • Changes in vision – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by changes in vision, then you need to consult with your doctor right away. Such symptoms could indicate a neurological disorder or some other condition that is equally severe. Seek medical attention in order to receive an accurate diagnosis of the underlying medical condition that is causing your symptoms.
  • Changes in hearing – If you are experiencing hearing loss or abnormal hearing along with dizzy spells, then this may be an indication of a more severe health issue. Consult with your doctor right away in order to rule out a couple of the more severe conditions.
  • Chest pain – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by chest pain, then you may be suffering from a severe medical condition. Seek immediate medical attention for a proper diagnosis and effective treatment.
  • Weakness – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by weakness, this could be an indication of a more severe health issue. Consult with your doctor right away and seek effective treatment.
  • Numbness – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by numbness, seek immediate medical attention. Inform your doctor how long you have been experiencing the dizzy spells and numbness, so that they have all the information they need in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
  • Shortness of breath– If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention. It could be an indication of a more severe condition. Have your doctor provide you with an accurate diagnosis of the underlying health issue and get it treated right away.
  • High fever – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by a high fever, then you need to make an appointment to see your doctor right away. This could be an indication of a more severe condition so it is important that you inform your doctor of all your symptoms. They can provide you with a proper diagnosis and treatment for the underlying health issue.
  • Stiff neck – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by a stiff neck, these symptoms may be an indication of a more severe condition. You need to consult with your doctor in order to receive a proper diagnosis and effective treatment.
  • Head injury – If you are experiencing dizziness after a head injury, this could be an indication of a severe condition such as intracranial bleeding. Check yourself into the nearest emergency room and seek medical care right away. Have your doctor run a few tests (such as a CT scan) in order to rule out any neurological issues. A CT scan can determine if you have developed a blood clot in your brain and it is causing you to experience dizziness.
  • Seizures – If you are experiencing dizziness accompanied by seizures, this may be an indication of a neurological disorder. Consult with your doctor and have him or her run a few tests in order to rule out more severe health issues such as tumors. After receiving an accurate diagnosis, seek out effective treatment for your current condition.

You should visit a doctor if you experience prolonged, recurrent, sudden, or severe episodes of dizziness.

Dizziness may be caused by inner ear problems, poor circulation and other underlying health conditions. A few neurological conditions, anxiety disorders, anemia, low blood sugar levels, dehydration, heat intolerance, and certain medications may also lead to dizziness.

Vertigo is a type of dizziness in which you feel as if you are spinning or the environment around you is moving. It may also be felt as motion sickness, as if you are off balance or near fainting.

Disequilibrium, on the other hand, refers to the loss of equilibrium. Certain factors that increase the risk of dizziness include age and a personal history of dizziness (more prone to recurrence). Dizziness is more common among elderly individuals.

Dizziness can increase the chances of falling and getting injured. Furthermore, if you are performing any risky activities such as driving or operating heavy machinery, the chances of getting into an accident are higher.

Diagnosing the exact cause of dizziness can be done by performing a thorough physical examination. During the examination, your doctor takes your symptoms into consideration and checks if you are experiencing any walking, hearing or visual problems.

Imaging tests, such as an MRI and CT scan, are recommended if dizziness is caused by a head injury or stroke. In most of the cases, dizziness resolves without the need for any specific treatment. However, if treatment is necessary, treatment options depend on the underlying cause.

Certain medications are prescribed in cases involving recurrent dizzy spells. Psychotherapy and balance therapy are also used to treat such recurrent episodes. If necessary, surgery and injections are other methods used for the treatment of dizziness.

Many lifestyle changes and home remedies may be useful in preventing the risks associated with dizziness. You should avoid sudden movement, driving or excessive caffeine intake. Make sure to drink plenty of water in order to avoid overheating, as it can lead to dizziness.

3 Causes

Inner ear problems and poor circulation are some of the most common causes of dizziness. Inner ear problems that cause dizziness are known as vertigo.

The inner ear plays an important role in detecting gravity and back-and-forth motion. Such input, combined with other parts of your sensory system such as your eyes and sensory nerves, help your body to stay firm and balanced.
Inner ear problems cause a false sense of movement of your surroundings. At this point, a misbalance occurs between what your brain signals and what your eyes and sensory nerves are receiving.

Some of the most common inner ear issues that lead to vertigo include:

  • Infection – Vestibular neuritis is a viral infection of the vestibular nerve that leads to prolonged dizziness. It causes intense, constant head spinning. It can also lead to vertigo and sudden hearing loss.
  • Meniere's disease – This condition is characterized by the accumulation of fluid in your inner ear. Vertigo caused by Meniere’s disease may last as long as several hours. It may also be accompanied by fluctuating hearing loss, feeling of a plugged ear, and a ringing sensation.
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) – Sudden and rapid changes in head movement can lead to BPPV. If you turn over or stand up suddenly from a lying position, this can cause intense vertigo.
  • Poor blood circulation - Insufficient pumping of the blood to the brain may cause dizziness. In fact, poor blood circulation and drop in blood pressure are two of the most common circulation problems that can cause dizziness. Conditions such as cardiomyopathy, heart attack, arrhythmia, and transient ischemic attack also reduce blood flow and can lead to dizziness.

Other common causes of dizziness include:

  • Anxiety disorder – Panic attacks caused by several reasons, such as fear, may cause dizziness. If you are prone to anxiety attacks, then any episodes of dizziness may be interrelated.
  • Certain medications – Dizziness is seen as a side effect of certain medications such as anti-seizure medications, antidepressants and tranquilizers. Some medications used for controlling high blood pressure may have a drastic effect on the body, thus leading to dizziness. If you have been self-medicating yourself with anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications, then you may be experiencing side effects such as dizziness. If the side effects persist, consult with your doctor and seek an alternative medication or treatment method.
  • Anemia – Anemia is known to cause weakness, fatigue and dizziness. Consult with your doctor and get yourself tested if the dizzy spells you are experiencing are caused by anemia. If you find yourself experiencing fatigue, accompanied by weakness and dizziness, then it is likely that anemia is the cause.
  • Overheating and dehydration – Dizziness is often accompanied by dehydration and overheating. If you are active in hot weather and you don’t drink enough fluids, you may experience dizziness. If you are visiting a hot tropical zone for the first time and you are experiencing dizzy spells, this may be on account of dehydration. Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids in order to keep your body hydrated.
  • Hypoglycemia – Diabetics who are taking medications may have a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, accompanied by dizziness. If you are a diabetic and you have not had anything to eat during the day, this can lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure levels, causing you to experience dizziness. Make sure that you take better care of yourself, get plenty of sleep, and eat your meals on a regular basis.
  • Neurological conditions – Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, may cause dizziness. If you start experiencing prolonged dizziness, this may be an indication of a severe neurological condition. Make sure to see your doctor and get a full check-up, complete with CT scans. This way, they can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.

4 Diagnosis and treatment

Checking your symptoms, reviewing your medical history and undergoing a physical examination are the first steps towards diagnosing the exact cause of dizziness. Prior to further diagnosis, the doctor will try to determine whether what you are experiencing is vertigo.

Further diagnosis typically depends on your test results and the exact trigger of your condition. For example, the doctor may ask you questions such as whether the dizziness was triggered by a sudden change in position or whether it was resolved on its own.

Inner ear problems will also be taken into consideration. The doctor may ask you whether you experienced any other symptoms such as palpitations, heavy menstrual bleeding, and shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, and fever.

The doctor may check your blood pressure in order to determine whether you are experiencing any circulation issues or dehydration. Blood pressure can be checked in either a standing or sitting position.

Physical examinations tend to be based on your medical history. For example, a woman with a heavy menstrual period would need to undergo a pelvic examination, while a patient experiencing respiratory issues would need to undergo an examination of the heart and lungs.

Based on the suspected cause of dizziness, imaging tests and blood tests may be recommended. Some of the most common tests performed include blood count test, electrolyte level test, blood sugar test, kidney function test, and thyroid test. The most common imaging procedures used include X-rays, CT scan, and MRI.

Dizziness is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying disease or condition. In most cases, dizziness resolves on its own without the need for any treatment. However, in cases where it is caused by an underlying disease, treating the disease helps to alleviate the dizziness. For example, anxiety disorders that cause dizziness are typically controlled by specific medications. Moreover, relaxation and stress-reducing techniques may also be helpful in resolving the symptom. If dizziness is accompanied by vomiting, taking anti-nausea medication can help alleviate your symptoms.

Treatment for vertigo depends on the cause:

  • Inflammation of the inner ear is treated using steroid medications that help reduce the inflammation
  • Vertigo with mild symptoms is treated using over-the-counter medications such as meclizine or diazepam
  • Vertigo accompanied by vomiting is treated with a diazepam injection
  • BPPV is typically treated by repositioning the tiny crystals of the inner ear
  • Meniere’s disease is treated with various methods such as injections, surgery, and a low salt diet

Vestibular rehabilitation is an exercised-based program used to help restore your brain’s inner balance. It is commonly used to treat dizziness associated with inner ear problems. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is recommended for individuals experiencing dizziness caused by anxiety disorders.

There are a few lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risks associated with dizziness. They include:

  • Avoiding sudden movements
  • Placing non-slip mats inside the house
  • Reducing excessive intake of caffeine and alcohol
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Trying a few relaxation techniques
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