Dizziness has many possible causes. How long it lasts and any other symptoms you have can help pinpoint the cause.
Dizziness is a term used to describe a range of sensations, such as feeling faint, woozy, weak or unsteady. Dizziness that creates the false sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving is called vertigo.
Dizziness is one of the more common reasons adults visit their doctors. Frequent dizzy spells or constant dizziness can significantly affect your life. But dizziness rarely signals a life-threatening condition.
Treatment of dizziness depends on the cause and your symptoms. It's usually effective, but the problem may recur.
People experiencing dizziness may describe it as any of a number of sensations, such as:
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.
Generally, see your doctor if you experience any recurrent, sudden, severe, or prolonged and unexplained dizziness or vertigo.
Get emergency medical care if you experience new, severe dizziness or vertigo along with any of the following:
Dizziness has many possible causes, including inner ear disturbance, motion sickness and medication effects. Sometimes it's caused by an underlying health condition, such as poor circulation, infection or injury.
The way dizziness makes you feel and your triggers provide clues for possible causes. How long the dizziness lasts and any other symptoms you have also help pinpoint the cause.
Your sense of balance depends on the combined input from the various parts of your sensory system. These include your:
Vertigo is the false sense that your surroundings are spinning or moving. With inner ear disorders, your brain receives signals from the inner ear that aren't consistent with what your eyes and sensory nerves are receiving. Vertigo is what results as your brain works to sort out the confusion.
You may feel dizzy, faint or off balance if your heart isn't pumping enough blood to your brain. Causes include:
Loop-shaped canals in your inner ear contain fluid and fine, hairlike sensors that help you keep your balance. At the base of the canals are the utricle and saccule, each containing a patch of sensory hair cells. Within these cells are tiny particles (otoconia) that help monitor the position of your head in relation to gravity and linear motion, such as going up and down in an elevator or moving forward and backward in a car.
Factors that may increase your risk of getting dizzy include:
Dizziness can increase your risk of falling and injuring yourself. Experiencing dizziness while driving a car or operating heavy machinery can increase the likelihood of an accident. You may also experience long-term consequences if an existing health condition that may be causing your dizziness goes untreated.
If your doctor suspects you are having or may have had a stroke, are older or suffered a blow to the head, he or she may immediately order an MRI or CT scan.
Most people visiting their doctor because of dizziness will first be asked about their symptoms and medications and then be given a physical examination. During this exam, your doctor will check how you walk and maintain your balance and how the major nerves of your central nervous system are working.
You may also need a hearing test and balance tests, including:
In addition, you may be given blood tests to check for infection and other tests to check heart and blood vessel health.
Dizziness often gets better without treatment. Within a couple of weeks, the body usually adapts to whatever is causing it.
If you seek treatment, your doctor will base it on the cause of your condition and your symptoms. It may include medications and balance exercises. Even if no cause is found or if your dizziness persists, prescription drugs and other treatments may make your symptoms more manageable.
If you tend to experience repeated episodes of dizziness, consider these tips:
Your family doctor or primary care provider will probably be able to diagnose and treat the cause of your dizziness. He or she you may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist or a doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system (neurologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. For dizziness, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor will likely ask you a number of questions about your dizziness, such as:
If you tend to feel lightheaded when you stand up, take your time making changes in posture. If you have had episodes of dizziness while driving, arrange for alternate transportation while you're waiting to see your doctor.
If your dizziness causes you to feel like you might fall, take steps to reduce your risk. Keep your home well lighted and free of hazards that might cause you to trip. Avoid area rugs and exposed electrical cords. Place furniture where you're unlikely to bump into it, and use nonslip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.