What is Dizziness?
Dizziness encompasses a number of feelings relating to our sense of balance. We use it to describe the sensations of being off balance, giddy, lightheaded or faint.(1)
We even use it to describe the feeling: we or the world around us is spinning.
All these things are attributable to our perception of equilibrium. You might feel like you are walking a tightrope and are about to fall off.
However, dizziness can also be a symptom of something more serious. In fact, it can be an underlying issue of many different conditions.
There are four factors which contribute to our sense of balance: the inner ear, the eyes, pressure and sensory receptors plus the central nervous system.
The inner ear monitors directions of motion. It tells us whether we are turning, rolling, forward-backward, side-to-side or up-and-down. It’s also sensitive to changes in blood flow.
The eyes monitor direction and motion changes. They tell us where our body is in the space we are in.
The pressure and sensory receptors tell us which parts of the body are moving. They also let us know which are in touch with the ground.
The central nervous system passes all the information from the other areas to the brain. It is here that the information is deciphered.
If the brain receives messages from the other areas that it can’t make sense of, dizziness could be the result. (2)
There are many things that disrupt this equilibrium, including:
Reduced blood flow to the brain makes you feel light headed. You can even faint. We have all probably experienced this if we get up too quickly after sitting or lying down for a while.
There are other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol which can affect blood flow.
These conditions cause hardening of the arteries which restricts blood flow. Other possibilities leading to this are poor heart function, low blood sugar or anemia. (3)
When we are anxious or have a panic attack our breathing rate changes. As a result we hyperventilate. This can cause us to feel dizzy or light headed. (4)
The inner ear is sensitive to blood flow. If it doesn’t receive enough, dizziness can happen. More specifically this is linked to vertigo.
Vertigo is the feeling you get when you or everything around you feels like it’s spinning. Think about being on a roller coaster ride or a carousel at the fair.
The causes mentioned for the circulatory system also apply to the inner ear. (5)
There are also other conditions which affect the inner ear, including:
This is an inner ear disorder that can cause vertigo, vomiting nausea and tinnitus. The episodes of vertigo can last for hours. (6)
A head injury can damage the inner ear. This can cause severe vertigo with nausea and hearing loss. The dizziness will last for several weeks depending on the severity of the injury.(7)
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
This is a disorder affecting the inner ear. It is also called positional vertigo.
In your ear, you have two semi circular balance canals filled with fluid. Sometimes a small calcium crystal enters the canal. When this happens they move in the fluid as you move your head. When you stop moving they don’t.
This causes the feeling that either you or the world around you is spinning. (8)
From time to time we all get an earache. This could be due to a viral or bacterial infection. If it affects the inner ear it can cause vertigo or dizziness. Sometimes it can affect your hearing as well. (9)
As well as debilitating headaches, migraine can also cause vertigo or dizziness. This can happen in migraine sufferers even when they don’t have a headache.(10)
Allergic reactions to foods or certain things like dust, mold and pollen can trigger an episode of vertigo or dizziness. (11)
Certain medications have side effects which include vertigo and dizziness. Some of these are antibiotics and antidepressants.
Blood pressure tablets affect the blood flow and contribute to bouts of dizziness. (12)
Some stimulants decrease blood flow. These include caffeine and nicotine. Too much salt in your diet can lead to poor circulation. This affects blood flow and causes dizziness. (13)
Alcohol can cause you to become dehydrated. Dehydration can cause low blood pressure and make you dizzy. (14)
Multiple sclerosis or a psychiatric disorder can cause dizzy spells. They interfere with the signals to the brain.
Any conditions affecting blood flow to the brain can cause dizziness. This includes low blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.(15)
There are many words to describe dizziness. It’s a sensation that leaves you feeling woozy, faint, weak or unsteady.
Then there is vertigo that leaves you feeling like you have been spun round and round and can’t walk afterwards. You don’t know where you are and everything is out of kilter.
The general descriptions of the symptoms for dizziness include a false sense of spinning or motion, lightheadedness, feeling faint and a loss of balance. You may even have a feeling of floating.
These sensations could be accompanied by other factors like nausea or fever. They may get worse if you stand up or move around.
There are times when dizziness can be a medical emergency. If incidences are associated with convulsions, fever, chest pain, head injury or fainting then you should seek immediate medical help.
Dizziness may be fleeting or it may last hours or days. It may be so bad that you feel the need to sit or lie down. (16)
Unexplained dizzy spells or vertigo can be worrying. Your doctor will ask you questions about your general health. They will want a description of your dizziness.
An examination of your ears, nose and throat will be carried out. There are also other routine tests that will be done. These include checking your blood pressure, pulse, breathing and temperature.
Dependent on the outcome of the initial examination you may need further tests. These include tests for balance, x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and hearing tests.(17,18)
What is dizziness? Dizziness encompasses a number of feelings associated with our sense of balance. It is described as feeling faint, woozy, light headed or off balance. You might feel like you or the world around you is spinning.
What causes dizziness? There are many things that can make you feel dizzy. Most are as a result of changes in blood flow to the brain or changes in the inner ear. Some medical conditions or medications can affect balance. Lifestyle choices like taking drugs or drinking alcohol can also contribute.(19)
How do doctors test for dizziness? Your doctor will ask questions about your dizzy spells. They will carry out an physical examination. If necessary further tests for balance or scans to determine the cause of your dizziness may be done.
When should you go to the doctors with dizziness? You should visit your doctor if you have recurrent, sudden, severe dizziness. It is also advisable to see them if any episode of dizziness of any sort is prolonged. If you have dizziness and convulsions, fever, chest pain, head injury or fainting then you should seek immediate medical help.
What are the risk factors of dizziness? Age may predispose you to suffering from dizziness. When we get older we are more likely to have a medical condition that can cause dizziness. We also take more medications that can cause dizziness. (20)
What are the complications associated with dizziness? One of the main complications is the fact that you might fall and injure yourself. If you drive or operate machinery, you may have an accident. (21)
Can you prevent dizziness? There are steps you can take to prevent dizziness. You can avoid products which interfere with your circulation like alcohol, salt, tobacco, drugs and caffeine. You can make sure you drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated. You can also avoid rapid changes in position of your body or head. Make sure you get treatment for any infections in your ears. (22)
What can relieve dizziness? Provided the cause of your dizziness is not a medical emergency or needs a doctor’s visit there are some things you can do to relieve the symptoms. You can sit still and not move too quickly. Make sure you have something to hold onto when you get up or use stairs. Stay hydrated and eat regularly. Make sure you are well rested. Acupuncture has also shown to be beneficial in helping relieve symptoms.(23,24)
Dizziness can be caused by many different things. It may be short lived or prolonged.
The severity of it can be anything from mild to incapacitating. More serious causes require immediate medical intervention.
There are activities that you should avoid if you are feeling dizzy like driving or operating machinery. Provided you don’t need to see a doctor there are some things you can do to help relieve the symptoms.
Sometimes dizziness may be a symptom of a more serious health issue. If your dizziness is prolonged or severe make sure you get a medical opinion on the cause.