DefinitionDizziness is a term that is often used to describe two different symptoms: lightheadedness and vertigo.Light-headedness is a feeling like you might faint.Vertigo is a feeling that you are spinning or moving, or that the the world is spinning around you. See also: Vertigo-associated disorders
Alternative NamesLight-headedness - dizzy; Loss of balance; Vertigo
ConsiderationsMost causes of dizziness are not serious and either quickly get better on their own or are easily treated.
Common CausesLight-headedness occurs when your brain does not get enough blood. This may occur if:You have a sudden drop in blood pressureYour body does not have enough water (is dehydrated) because of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and other conditionsYou 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 beatStrokeBleeding inside the bodyShock (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 headLabyrinthitis, a viral infection of the inner ear that usually follows a cold or fluMeniere's disease, a common inner ear problemOther causes of lightheadedness or vertigo may include:Use of certain medicationsStrokeMultiple sclerosisSeizuresBrain tumorBleeding in the brain
Home CareIf 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 a 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.
Call your health care provider ifCall your local emergency number (such as 911) or go to an emergency room if you are dizzy and have:A head injuryFever over 101°F, headache, or very stiff neckSeizuresTrouble keeping fluids downChest painHeart skipping beatsShortness of breathWeaknessInability to move an arm or legChange in vision or speechFainting and losing alertness for more than a few minutesCall your doctor for an appointment if you have:Dizziness for the first timeNew or worsening symptomsDizziness after taking medicationHearing loss
What to expect at your health care provider's officeYour doctor 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 readingECGHearing testsBalance testing (ENG)MRIYour health care provider may prescribe medications to help you feel better, including:AntihistaminesSedativesAnti-nausea medicationSurgery may be needed if you have Meniere's disease.
PreventionIf you have a cold, the flu, or other viral illness, drink plenty of fluids to prevent getting dehydrated.
ReferencesPost RE, Dickerson LM. Dizziness: a diagnostic approach. Am Fam Physician. 2010 Aug 15;82(4):361-8, 369.Olshaker JS. Dizziness and vertigo. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 12.