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Dizziness

  • Definition
    • Dizziness is a term that is often used to describe 2 different symptoms: lightheadedness and vertigo.

      Lightheadedness is a feeling that you might faint.

      Vertigo is a feeling that you are spinning or moving, or that the world is spinning around you. See also: Vertigo-associated disorders

  • Alternative Names
    • Lightheadedness - dizzy; Loss of balance; Vertigo

  • Considerations
    • Most causes of dizziness are not serious, and they either quickly get better on their own or are easy to treat.

  • Causes
    • Lightheadedness occurs when your brain does not get enough blood. This may occur if:

      • You have a sudden drop in blood pressure.
      • Your body does not have enough water (is dehydrated) because of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and other conditions.
      • You get up too quickly after sitting or lying down (this is more common in older people).

      Lightheadedness may also occur if you have the flu, low blood sugar, a cold, or allergies.

      More serious conditions that can lead to light-headedness include:

      • Heart problems, such as a heart attack or abnormal heart beat
      • Stroke
      • Bleeding inside the body
      • Shock (extreme drop in blood pressure)

      If any of these serious disorders are present, you will usually also have symptoms like chest pain, a feeling of a racing heart, loss of speech, change in vision, or other symptoms.

      Vertigo may be due to:

      Other causes of lightheadedness or vertigo may include:

      • Use of certain medicines
      • Stroke
      • Multiple sclerosis
      • Seizures
      • Brain tumor
      • Bleeding in the brain
  • Home Care
    • If you tend to get light-headed when you stand up:

      • Avoid sudden changes in posture.
      • Get up from a lying position slowly, and stay seated for a few moments before standing.
      • When standing, make sure you have something to hold on to.

      If you have vertigo, the following tips can help prevent your symptoms from becoming worse:

      • Keep still and rest when symptoms occur.
      • Avoid sudden movements or position changes.
      • Slowly increase activity.
      • You may need a cane or other help walking when you have a loss of balance during a vertigo attack.
      • Avoid bright lights, TV, and reading during vertigo attacks because they may make symptoms worse.

      Avoid activities such as driving, operating heavy machinery, and climbing until 1 week after your symptoms disappear. A sudden dizzy spell during these activities can be dangerous.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your local emergency number (such as 911) or go to an emergency room if you are dizzy and have:

      • A head injury
      • Fever over 101°F (38.3°C), headache, or very stiff neck
      • Seizures
      • Trouble keeping fluids down
      • Chest pain
      • Irregular heart rate (heart is skipping beats)
      • Shortness of breath
      • Weakness
      • Inability to move an arm or leg
      • Change in vision or speech
      • Fainting and loss of alertness for more than a few minutes

      Call your health care provider for an appointment if you have:

      • Dizziness for the first time
      • New or worsening symptoms
      • Dizziness after taking medicine
      • Hearing loss
  • What to Expect at Your Office Visit
    • Your provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:

      • When did your dizziness begin?
      • Does your dizziness occur when you move?
      • What other symptoms occur when you feel dizzy?
      • Are you always dizzy or does the dizziness come and go?
      • How long does the dizziness last?
      • Were you sick with a cold, flu, or other illness before the dizziness began?
      • Do you have a lot of stress or anxiety?

      Tests that may be done include:

      • Blood pressure reading
      • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
      • Hearing tests
      • Balance testing (ENG)
      • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

      Your provider may prescribe medicines to help you feel better, including:

      • Antihistamines
      • Sedatives
      • Anti-nausea medicine

      Surgery may be needed if you have Meniere's disease.

  • References
    • Baloh RW, Jen JC. Hearing and equilibrium. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 428.

      Chang AK, Olshaker JS. Dizziness and vertigo. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 99.

      Post RE, Dickerson LM. Dizziness: a diagnostic approach. Am Fam Physician. 2010 Aug 15;82(4):361-8, 369.