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Definition

Dizziness may cause you to feel light-headed or weak. You may feel like you are going to faint. Dizziness can happen for a short period or be a long-lasting condition that gets in the way of your daily activities. It is different from vertigo, which is a feeling that the room is spinning or rotating while you are still.

Causes

Many conditions can cause dizziness such as:

Prescription medications can also cause dizziness. These may include:

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Nitrates
  • Antipsychotics
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
Blood Flow to the Brain
Nucleus factsheet image
In some cases, dizziness may be due to decreased blood flow to the brain.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Dizziness is a symptom that may be caused by another condition. There are no specific risk factors for dizziness.

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type of dizziness you have. Common symptoms include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Imbalance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Heart palpitations

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Dizziness that increases or gets worse
  • Signs of an infection such as fever or chills
  • Concern that your medication may be causing dizziness
  • Hearing loss
  • A headache that occurs with dizziness
  • Other symptoms in addition to dizziness

When Should I Call for Medical Help Immediately?

Call for medical help or go to the emergency room right away if you have:

  • A head injury
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat, or chest pain
  • High fever

Look for and know the signs of stroke. These may include:

  • Face drooping—one side of the face is numb or drooping
  • Arm weakness—one arm is numb, weak, or drifts downward when trying to raise it up
  • Speech difficulty—includes slurring, inability to speak, or inability to repeat a simple sentence
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Confusion or difficulty understanding
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of balance
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluid may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Blood pressure measurements

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

The electrical activity of your heart may be tested. This can be done with an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Other tests may include:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the dizziness. If your dizziness is caused by a condition, the treatment may help reduce symptoms. Examples include:

Cause Treatment
Orthostatic hypotension Medication, lifestyle, and dietary changes
Motion sickness Medication and lifestyle changes
Anxiety disorder or other mental health condition Therapy and medication
Infection Antibiotic or antiviral medication
Dizziness due to medication that you are taking Changes to your medication
Imbalance Physical therapy to build strength and balance

Home Care and Lifestyle Changes

To avoid injuries, make these lifestyle changes:

  • If you are feeling dizzy, sit down right away. Also, avoid activities that could cause harm such as driving, using machinery, or climbing a ladder.
  • Remove items in your home that could cause you to lose your balance such as throw rugs and loose electrical cords.
  • Place slip-resistant mats in your shower and on your bathroom floor.
  • Place night lights in hallways and in the bathroom.
  • Use a cane if you feel that you need extra support.

Prevention

Try these tips to prevent dizziness:

  • Avoid sudden movements.
  • Avoid bending down or extending your neck.
  • Avoid smoking, drinking excess amounts of alcohol, and using illicit drugs.
  • Maintain proper treatment for long-term conditions.
  • Get treatment when you have an infection.
  • Talk to your doctor right away if you have side effects from your medications.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 02/2014 -
  • Update Date: 02/13/2014 -
  • FamilyDoctor.org - American Academy of Family Physicians

    http://www.familydoctor.org

  • Vestibular Disorders Association

    http://www.vestibular.org

  • Balance and Dizziness Disorders Society

    http://www.balanceanddizziness.org

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated January 14, 2013. Updated November 21, 2013. Accessed February 13, 2014.

  • Dizziness and motion sickness. American Academy of Otolaryngology website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/dizzinessMotionSickness.cfm. Updated December 2010. Accessed February 13, 2014.

  • Dizziness-differential diagnosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 16, 2011. Accessed February 13, 2014.

  • Stroke warning signs and symptoms. American Stroke Association website. Available at: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/WarningSigns/Stroke-Warning-Signs-and-Symptoms%5FUCM%5F308528%5FSubHomePage.jsp. Accessed February 13, 2014.