Dizziness & Vertigo

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Alternative names: Lightheadedness – dizzy; Loss of balance; Vertigo 

Definition: Dizziness is lightheadedness, feeling like you might faint, being unsteady, loss of balance, or vertigo (a feeling that you or the room is spinning or moving).

Most causes of dizziness are not serious and either quickly resolve on their own or are easily treated.

Common Causes

Lightheadedness happens when there is not enough blood getting to the brain. This can happen if there is a sudden drop in your blood pressure or you are dehydrated from vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or other causes. Many people, especially as they get older, experience lightheadedness if they get up too quickly from a lying or seated position. Lightheadedness often accompanies the flu, hypoglycemia, common cold, or allergies.

More serious conditions that can lead to lightheadedness include heart problems (such as abnormal heart rhythm or heart attack), stroke, and severe drop in blood pressure (shock). If any of these serious disorders is present, you will usually have additional symptoms like chest pain, a feeling of a racing heart, loss of speech, change in vision, or other symptoms.

The most common causes of vertigo are benign positional vertigo and labyrinthitis. Benign positional vertigo is vertigo that happens when you change the position of your head. Labyrinthitis usually follows a cold or flu and is caused by a viral infection of the inner ear. Meniere’s disease is another common inner ear problem. It causes vertigo, loss of balance, and ringing in the ears.

Much less commonly, vertigo or feeling unsteady is a sign of stroke, multiple sclerosis, seizures, a brain tumor, or a bleed in your brain. In such conditions, other symptoms usually accompany the vertigo or imbalance.

Call your doctor if:

  • You have never had dizziness before.
  • Symptoms you have had in the past are different (for example, last longer than usual, are worse than before, or are interfering with your daily activities).
  • Medication is the suspected cause. Talk to your health care provider before making any changes to your medication.

You have any hearing loss.