Dizziness

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Definition

Dizziness can range from fleeting faintness to a severe balance disorder that makes normal functioning impossible. Among adults over 60, about 20 percent have had a dizziness episode that affected their usual activities.

Dizziness may feel like:

  • Lightheadedness, as though you might pass out
  • Unsteadiness or a loss of balance
  • A false sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving (vertigo)
  • Floating, swimming or heavy-headedness

Dizziness is often temporary and goes away without treatment. As you talk with your doctor about your condition, try to describe your specific symptoms, how the dizziness makes you feel as it is coming on and after it has passed, what triggers it, and how long it lasts. This will help your doctor diagnose the cause and treat it.

Causes

The causes of dizziness are as varied as its symptoms. It can result from something as simple as motion sickness the queasy feeling that you get on hairpin roads and roller coasters. Or it can be caused by an inner ear disturbance, infection, reduced blood flow due to blocked arteries or heart disease, medication side effects, anxiety, or another condition. Sometimes a cause can’t be identified.

Dizziness, particularly vertigo, occurring by itself, without any other symptoms, is generally unlikely to be a sign of a stroke.

Some causes of dizziness include:

Inner ear problems

Many cases of dizziness are caused by problems that affect the balance mechanism in your inner ear. Examples include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
  • Ear infection (middle ear)
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Migraine

Reduced blood flow
Dizziness can be caused if your brain doesn’t receive enough blood. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis
  • Congenital heart disease in adults
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Orthostatic hypotension (postural hypotension)
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

Certain medications

Some types of drugs cause dizziness, including some varieties of:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • Drugs to control high blood pressure
  • Sedatives
  • Tranquilizers

Other causes of dizziness

  • Anemia
  • Concussion
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Motion sickness: First aid
  • Panic attacks and panic disorder

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