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Alternative Names Return to topLight-headedness - dizzy; Loss of balance; Vertigo
Definition Return to top
Dizziness is light-headedness, feeling like you might faint, being unsteady, loss of balance, or vertigo (a feeling that you or the room is spinning or moving).
Most causes of dizziness are not serious and either quickly get better on their own or are easily treated.
Causes Return to top
Light-headedness happens when there is not enough blood getting to the brain. This can happen if there is a sudden drop in your blood pressure or you are dehydrated from vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or other causes. Many people, especially as they get older, experience light-headedness if they get up too quickly from a lying or seated position. Light-headedness often accompanies the flu, hypoglycemia, common cold, or allergies.
More serious conditions that can lead to light-headedness include heart problems (such as abnormal heart rhythm or heart attack), stroke, and severe drop in blood pressure (shock). If any of these serious disorders is present, you will usually have additional symptoms like chest pain, a feeling of a racing heart, loss of speech, change in vision, or other symptoms.
The most common causes of vertigo are benign positional vertigo and labyrinthitis. Benign positional vertigo is vertigo that happens when you change the position of your head. Labyrinthitis usually follows a cold or flu and is caused by a viral infection of the inner ear. Meniere's disease is another common inner ear problem. It causes vertigo, loss of balance, and ringing in the ears.
Much less commonly, vertigo or feeling unsteady is a sign of stroke, multiple sclerosis, seizures, a brain tumor, or a bleed in your brain. In such conditions, other symptoms usually accompany the vertigo or imbalance.
Home Care Return to top
If you tend to get light-headed when you stand up, avoid sudden changes in posture.
If you are thirsty or light-headed, drink fluids. If you are unable to keep fluids down from nausea or vomiting, you may need intravenous fluids. These are delivered to you at the hospital.
Most times, benign positional vertigo and labyrinthitis go away on their own within a few weeks. During attacks of vertigo from any cause, try to rest and lie still. Avoid sudden changes in your position as well as bright lights. Be cautious about driving or using machinery.
Some vertigo can be reduced by working with a physical therapist. Medications from your doctor may help you feel better.
Such medications include antihistamines, sedatives, or pills for nausea. For Meniere's disease, surgery may be necessary.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call 911 or go to an emergency room if someone with dizziness also has:
Call your doctor if:
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
Your doctor will perform a physical exam, focusing on your heart, head, ears, and nervous system, and ask question such as:
Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
Prevention Return to top
Promptly treat ear infections, colds, flu, sinus congestion, and other respiratory infections. This may help prevent labyrinthitis and Meniere's disease.
If you have a cold, the flu, or other viral illness, drink plenty of fluids to prevent getting dehydrated.
References Return to top
Kerber KA. Vertigo and dizziness in the emergency department. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2009;27:39-50.
Tusa RJ. Dizziness. Med Clin North Am. 2009; 93:263-271.
Swartz R. Treatment of vertigo. Am Fam Physician. 2005; 71(6): 1115-1122.Update Date: 5/2/2009 Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.