“Dizziness” is a term used to describe a range of sensations, such as feeling faint, woozy, weak or unsteady. Certain Dizziness that creates a false sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving is called “vertigo.” Frequent dizzy spells or constant dizziness can significantly affect your life, but dizziness rarely signals a life-threatening condition.
Dizziness Causes & Treatments
Common causes of dizziness include migraines, medications, and alcohol. It can also be caused by a problem in the inner ear, where balance is regulated.
The most common cause of vertigo and vertigo-related dizziness is benign positional vertigo (BPV). This causes short-term dizziness when someone changes positions quickly, such as sitting up in bed after lying down. Dizziness and vertigo can also be triggered by Meniere’s disease. This causes fluid to build up in the ear with associated ear fullness, hearing loss, and tinnitus. Another possible cause for dizziness and vertigo is an acoustic neuroma. This is a noncancerous tumor that forms on the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain.
Some other possible causes of dizziness include:
- sudden drop in blood pressure
- heart muscle disease
- decrease in blood volume
- anxiety disorders
- anemia (low iron)
- hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- ear infection
- heat stroke
- excessive exercise
- motion sickness
In rare cases, dizziness could be caused by multiple sclerosis, a stroke, malignant tumor, or other brain disorder.
People experiencing dizziness may describe it as any of a number of sensations, such as:
- A false sense of motion or spinning (vertigo)
- Lightheadedness or feeling faint
- Unsteadiness or a loss of balance
- A feeling of floating, wooziness or heavy-headedness
These feelings may be triggered or worsened by walking, standing up or moving your head. Your dizziness may be accompanied by nausea or be so sudden or severe that you need to sit or lie down. The episode may last seconds or days and may recur.
When Should I Seek Medical Care for Dizziness?
Dangerous, life-threatening illness may start only with dizziness. Call a doctor if any of the following occur:
- Any severe first time or new instances of dizziness
- Dizziness without a clear or certain cause, or sudden dizziness
- Any change in an established pattern of dizziness
- Worsening or new symptoms
- Dizziness after taking newly prescribed medications, or recent changes in previous prescriptions
Call 911, or go to an emergency department if dizziness is associated with the following symptoms:
- Chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, or history of heart disease
- Loss of consciousness, fainting, or nearly fainting
- Facial droop, slurred speech, weakness on one side of the body, or inability to walk straight
- Fever or pale skin
Dizziness Treatment Options
Treatment varies widely and depends on the cause of the patient’s dizziness. Dizziness often is a symptom of another medical condition. Treating the underlying illness or condition can improve the symptoms of dizziness.
Some common treatments for conditions that cause dizziness include:
- If a serious medical problem is found to be the cause of a person’s dizziness, such as a heart attack or stroke, an emergency blood transfusion, intervention, or surgery may be needed.
- IV fluids may be given to treat dehydration.
- The patient may receive medications to control fever or treat infection.
- The patient may be given oxygen if they are short of breath or hyperventilating.
- If blood tests reveal abnormal blood chemistry (electrolyte levels), this will be corrected.
- Medications such as meclizine (Antivert) or benzodiazepines (such as diazepam [Valium], lorazepam [Ativan]) are used to control the spinning feeling associated with dizziness, when vertigo is a possible cause.
Outlook for Dizziness
Most cases of dizziness clear up on their own once the underlying cause is treated. In rare cases, dizziness can be a sign of a more serious health problem.
Dizziness may result in complications when it causes fainting or a loss of balance. This can be especially dangerous when a person is driving or operating heavy machinery. Use caution if you feel an episode of dizziness coming on. If you become dizzy, stop driving immediately or find a safe place to steady yourself until it passes.
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