Dizziness is a term that is often used to describe two different symptoms: light-headedness and vertigo.
Light-headedness is a feeling like 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
Light-headedness - dizzy; Loss of balance; Vertigo
Most causes of dizziness are not serious, and either quickly get better on their own or are easily treated.
Light-headedness 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)
Light-headedness 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
- Bleeding inside the body
- Shock (extreme drop in blood pressure)
If any of these serious disorders is 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:
- Benign positional vertigo, a spinning feeling that occurs when you move your head
- Labyrinthitis, a viral infection of the inner ear that usually follows a cold or flu
- Meniere's disease, a common inner ear problem
Other causes of light-headedness or vertigo may include:
- Use of certain medications
- Multiple sclerosis
- Brain tumor
- Bleeding in the brain
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, headache, or very stiff neck
- Trouble keeping fluids down
- Chest pain
- Heart is skipping beats
- Shortness of breath
- Inability to move an arm or leg
- Change in vision or speech
- Fainting and losing 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 medication
- Hearing loss
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your health care 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 significant amount of stress or anxiety?
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood pressure reading
- Hearing tests
- Balance testing (ENG)
Your health care provider may prescribe medications to help you feel better, including:
- Anti-nausea medication
Surgery may be needed if you have Meniere's disease.
If you have a cold, the flu, or other viral illness, drink plenty of fluids to prevent getting dehydrated.
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Olshaker JS. Dizziness and vertigo. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’' Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 12.
Baloh RW, Jen J. Hearing and equilibrium. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 436.