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Health Encylopedia

 
Dizziness
 
SubjectContents
Definition Dizziness is a feeling of faintness or light-headedness, making it difficult to maintain balance while standing or sitting. See also fainting .
Alternative Names Vertigo; Loss of balance; Light-headedness - dizzy
Considerations Most causes of dizziness (light-headedness) are minor. It is important to differentiate simple dizziness from vertigo (a spinning sensation or the feeling that you or the room around you is moving). Vertigo often indicates an inner ear problem but it can also signify a problem with the cerebellum or the brainstem. Serious disorders may cause light-headedness such as insufficient blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain, such as can be caused by a rapid drop in blood pressure . Serious disorders that can cause light-headedness (usually in addition to other symptoms) include heart problems such as a valve disorder or heart attack , stroke , and severe hypotension or shock . Light-headedness is a fainting feeling that often accompanies the flu , common cold or dehydration. Light-headedness without other symptoms is usually not serious. Most fainting spells are not dangerous, but if there is any question call for medical help. Sudden loss of consciousness (vasovagal faint) happens more easily when a person is upright. A simple faint is rarely preceded by symptoms such as pain, pressure, constriction in the chest or shortness of breath -- but generalized weakness , nausea, tunnel vision, and sweating may occur. Dizziness can also be caused by a poorly functioning balance mechanism in the inner ear. This balance mechanism also helps control eye movements, so often the environment seems to be spinning around. Most dizziness and vertigo has no definite cause and is commonly attributed to a viral infection of the inner ear especially in young otherwise healthy people. However, vertigo may be a sign of stroke, multiple sclerosis, seizures or rarely, a degenerative neurological disorder. In such conditions, other symptoms and signs usually accompany the vertigo.
Common Causes Light-headedness:
  • severe pain
  • hyperventilation
  • headache
  • injury
  • fright
  • low blood pressure
  • getting blood drawn
  • strenuous
  • coughing
  • straining during a bowel movement or bladder emptying
  • standing up too quickly after lying down or sitting especially in older people (see
  • hypotension )
  • pressure on the carotid sinus in the neck (a shirt collar may be too tight)
  • various medications including anti-hypertensives
  • heart beating too slow (below 30 times a minute) or too fast (around 200 times a minute)
  • Vertigo:
  • viral
  • infection of the inner ear
  • alcohol intoxication
  • medications, especially tranquilizers, many heart drugs, anticonvulsants, aspirin, Dilantin, Gentamycin, narcotics, sedatives, Streptomycin and others
  • classical migraine
  • or
  • common migraine
  • drug abuse and dependence
  • drug allergies
  • middle ear surgery
  • or trauma
  • tympanic membrane perforation
  • ear diseases (
  • otitis media , labyrinthitis , mastoiditis , cholesteatoma , vestibular neuronitis, Meniere's disease)
  • visual impairment
  • stroke
  • seizure
  • neuro-degenerative illness
  • multiple sclerosis
  • brain tumor
  • Home Care Follow prescribed treatment for the underlying cause. The feeling of light-headedness upon standing is one of the most common causes of temporary blackout or faintness and becomes more frequent with increasing age. Avoid sudden changes in posture. A persistent light-headed feeling without other symptoms is often due to anxiety , rather than a brain tumor or other hidden disease. Often people have to learn to live with this problem. If it is severe, some anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) can help treat light-headedness and dizziness.
    Call your health care provider if
  • There has been complete
  • loss of consciousness .
  • The room seems to spin around (vertigo).
  • Dizziness is preventing daily activities.
  • Medication is the suspected cause. Talk to your health care provider before taking the next dose of medication.
  • Light-headedness
  • lasts for more than 3 weeks.
  • Other symptoms are also present, especially
  • chest pain , numbness and tingling , or other serious symptoms.
    What to expect at your health care provider's office The medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed. Medical history questions documenting dizziness in detail may include:
  • quality
  • Does dizziness occur with a change in body position?
  • How severe is the dizziness?
  • Does the room seem to move (vertigo)?
  • time pattern
  • When did it begin?
  • Is the person always dizzy?
  • Does dizziness come and go (episodic)?
  • How long does it last (how many hours)?
  • Did another illness develop after the dizziness began?
  • How much later did the illness develop?
  • associated complaints
  • Does dizziness occur with
  • nausea and vomiting ?
  • Is there a significant amount of
  • stress or anxiety ?
  • What other symptoms are occurring at the same time?
  • The physical examination may include emphasis on the heart, head, ears, and nervous system. Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
  • blood pressure
  • measurements and tests
  • ECG
  • hearing tests
  • neurological tests
  • balance testing (
  • ENG ) may be required.
  • MRI
  • After seeing your health care provider: You may want to add a diagnosis related to dizziness to your personal medical record.