Dizziness is a feeling of lightheadedness or weakness. A person may also feel like they are going to faint. It can happen for a short time or happen often and get in the way of daily activities.
It is not the same as vertigo, which is a feeling that the room is spinning.
Dizziness may be caused by:
- A drop in blood pressure when standing— this is called orthostatic hypotension
- Problems with the nerves
- Health problems that affect how the heart pumps blood to the body
- Anxiety disorders
- Alcohol use disorder or illegal drug use
- Infection or fever
- Brain injury
- Low blood sugar—also called hypoglycemia
It may also be caused by certain medicines, such as:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Calcium channel blockers
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
In some cases, dizziness may be due to decreased blood flow to the brain.
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The risk of dizziness is higher in people who have any of the health problems that cause it. The risk is also higher for people who take certain medicines.
A person may have:
- Balance problems
- Nausea or vomiting
- Vision or hearing problems
- Fast heartbeat
The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Blood tests may be done to look for a cause.
Images may be taken. This can be done with:
Other tests may be done, such as:
Treatment will focus on the cause. This may ease dizziness.
It may take time for treatment to work. It may not ease all dizziness. A person can avoid injury by sitting down as soon as dizziness is felt.
Prevention will depend on the cause. Managing chronic health problems may lower the risk.
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 medicine may be causing dizziness
- Hearing loss
- A headache that happens with dizziness
- Other symptoms that happen with dizziness
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). ENThealth—American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/benign-paroxysmal-positional-vertigo-bppv.
- Dizziness in adults—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/dizziness-in-adults-approach-to-the-patient.
- Muncie, H.L., Sirmans, S.M., et al. Dizziness: approach to evaluation and management. American Family Physician, 2017; 95 (3): 154-162.
- Stroke symptoms. American Stroke Association website. Available at: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/WarningSigns/Stroke-Warning-Signs-and-Symptoms_UCM_308528_SubHomePage.jsp.
- James P. Cornell, MD
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