Dizziness is a symptom, not a disease. Dizziness can mean that you feel lightheaded, unsteady, or woozy, or it may mean you feel like your head is spinning or the room is spinning. It is important for you to explain to your provider what you mean when you say you are feeling dizzy.
Lightheadedness is the unsteady or woozy feeling that you can get when you stand up too fast and there is not enough oxygen in your brain. It may feel like you are dizzy inside your head for a few seconds to minutes. Sometimes your vision â€œgoes black” for a few seconds. It may happen once in a while, or it may happen every time you stand up.
Vertigo is the feeling that you are spinning or the room is spinning. You cannot tell which way â€œupâ€ is, and lose your balance. Often, even as you lie in bed, the room seems to be spinning around you. This can go on for days or weeks. The loss of balance often comes with nausea and vomiting and sometimes sweating.
What is the cause?
Most often dizziness is mild and doesnâ€™t last long. The cause may not be known. Sometimes dizziness, often with other symptoms, is a sign of a problem. Feeling lightheaded or dizzy can be caused by:
An infection or disease in the inner ear
Anemia, which is a problem with your red blood cells that keeps your body from getting enough oxygen
Being dehydrated, which means losing too much fluid from your body. This happens more often if you are vomiting, have diarrhea, or sweat a lot.
Fast, shallow breathing
Feeling very tired, stressed, or anxious
Head injury or a stroke
Heart disease or an abnormal heart rhythm
Low blood pressure
Low blood sugar
Dizziness is a common problem during pregnancy because of hormone changes and the growing baby putting pressure on blood vessels. Less common causes of dizziness are tumors or infections in the brain, or multiple sclerosis (MS).
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Your healthcare provider will ask you to describe your dizziness and how it happens in as much detail as you can. If your dizziness is caused by an ear problem, you may not need tests. You may have tests or scans to check for possible causes of your symptoms.
How is it treated?
The treatment depends on the cause of the dizziness. If your healthcare provider finds a problem that is causing the dizziness, you will be treated for the problem. For example:
A low-salt diet to decrease swelling in your inner ear
Steroid medicine to decrease swelling and inflammation that may be causing your symptoms
Antibiotics or other medicines to treat infections that are causing your symptoms
Medicine for motion sickness to prevent nausea, vomiting, and dizziness
If you are having dizziness because of a medicine you are taking, your healthcare provider may change the medicine or your dosage.
How can I take care of myself?
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:
Try to avoid sitting or standing in one position for a long time if that causes dizziness for you. When you stand up, do it slowly. If you have been lying down, sit for a while before standing.
Ask your healthcare provider if you should wear support stockings, which support the muscles in your legs and help prevent pooling of blood.
Drink plenty of fluids unless your healthcare provider has asked you to limit your fluids because of heart or other problems.
Tell your healthcare provider if you think a medicine you are taking may be making your symptoms worse. Check with your provider or pharmacist about nonprescription medicines and supplements before you start taking them.
If you smoke, stop. If someone else in your household smokes, ask them to smoke outside. Smoking can increase dizziness.
If your dizziness does not allow you to continue your usual routine, rest at home. Do not try to drive, operate tools or machinery, or do other tasks, even cooking, that could endanger yourself or others if you suddenly are dizzy.
Call 911 or your local emergency services right away if you have symptoms of a stroke or heart attack.
Stroke symptoms come on FAST and may include:
Weakness, numbness, drooping, or tingling of face (may just be on one side)
Trouble seeing (one or both eyes)
Feeling dizzy along with one or more of the symptoms listed above
Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arm or leg (may be on just one side of your body)
Trouble walking or moving your arm or leg
Trouble talking or understanding speech
Call 911 for emergency help right away if you have symptoms of a stroke.
The most common symptoms of a heart attack include:
Chest pain or pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back (may feel like indigestion or heartburn)
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders, or in your back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Breaking out in a cold sweat for no known reason
If your provider has prescribed nitroglycerin for angina, pain that does not go away after taking your nitroglycerin as directed
Along with these symptoms, you may also feel very tired, faint, or sick to your stomach.
Ask your provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-11-04 Last reviewed: 2014-10-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Dizziness and Motion Sickness. (2010). American Academy of Otolaryngology.