Since dizziness is a common complaint that can actually encompass a variety of different feelings, all of which may vary from one person to another, it makes sense that this symptom can be can have its roots in quite a few different causes. Also called a “dizzy spell”, dizziness may feel to the individual like the room is spinning, a sudden lightheaded sensation, or a difficulty balancing. Often these sensations will be accompanied with a sudden need to lie down, and may or may not include nausea. Generally it feels similar to the motion sickness many people feel after getting off a spinning carnival ride, but appears at random times completely unrelated to motion. These dizzy spells are called vertigo in a medical setting.
Dizziness can be a simple annoyance, and not have anything to do with a serious medical condition. In other circumstances it can signal the need for medical attention and a diagnosis of the underlying cause. This is why it’s important to pay attention to dizzy spells and uncover the root cause; in most cases the patient just has a mild condition, but occasionally dizziness can be a warning sign of a serious problem that needs treatment.
Possible causes of dizziness include:
- A disturbance in the inner ears, such as during or after a cold, sinus infection, or ear infection
- An illness such as the flu, which causes general weakness
- Emotional upset; for instance, some people become upset at the sight of blood
- Motion sickness, such as on long car rides (especially on curvy roads) or from theme park rides
- Any illness which produces nausea and vomiting
- Standing up too quickly from a sitting or prone position, or postural hypotension
- Severe fatigue from loss of sleep
- Blood pressure that is too high or low
- Certain types of heart disease
- Side effects from some medications
- Migraine headaches
- Low blood sugar
- Internal bleeding,such as from accident or injury
Some of these causes are fairly simple, and may be quite obvious that they are the source of the patient s symptoms. For example, if the dizziness only appears on long car trips, then motion sickness is most like the obvious cause. A person who does not experience dizziness on a regular basis, but suddenly begins having the problem during an illness, is probably just experiencing another symptom of the flu or cold. This is especially true when the illness infects the inner ears and disrupts the fluid balance there. An illness which causes a lot of vomiting will also leave the patient feeling weak and dizzy, but when the illness passes and the patient is able to eat again the dizziness will disappear. Those who suffer from migraine headaches on a regular basis probably already associate dizziness with their other symptoms. A sudden emotional upset is usually a fairly obvious cause; some people may experience dizziness if the sight of blood usually upsets them, or if they are being given bad news or witness an upsetting event.
Sometimes dizziness has a cause that is only obvious in hindsight. For example, chronic sleep deprivation may not immediately occur to the individual as the cause for their symptoms, because sleep deprivation sometimes happens gradually and the person even gets used to living with a lack of sleep. However, if someone complaining of dizziness also has other symptoms associated with insomnia, and is sleeping less than seven or eight hours per night on a regular basis, this is a likely cause for the dizzy spells. Dehydration is sometimes the cause of dizziness. If the dizzy spells tend to occur more often on sweltering hot days or after exercise, the individual may need to pay attention to his or her fluid consumption. Pregnancy is another possible cause which is sometimes discovered only after other symptoms appear. Early in pregnancy a woman may experience seemingly random dizzy spells, though fainting is rare and mostly happens on soap operas. Only after a few of these dizzy spells, she may realize she has missed a menstrual cycle and is pregnant.
If the dizziness is always experienced when suddenly standing up, this is known as postural hypotension. This happens when blood pools in the lower body, causing a drop in blood pressure. In this cause the dizziness may be accompanied by other sudden-onset symptoms upon standing up, such as vision “blacking out” or spotty vision. This can happen to anyone on occasion, but if it is a chronic problem may be associated with low blood pressure (another cause of dizziness) or a variety of other conditions best diagnosed by a medical doctor.
Dizziness can be a side effect of many medications, and this can usually be easily discovered by checking the information included with prescriptions. Nearly all drugs list dizziness as a side effect, but some of the more common offenders are prescriptions for blood pressure medications, antidepressants, pain relievers, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain antibiotics. Diuretics are another common culprit because they can cause dehydration.
Occasionally, dizzy spells are a sign of a serious condition. For example, heart disease will damage the heart to the point that it cannot efficiently pump enough oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. Dizziness can also be a sign of chronic high or low blood pressure, and it can be a symptom of strokes as well. Dizziness can signal endocrine disorders, low blood sugar, and anemia, all of which need to be diagnosed and corrected. It can be a sign of dementia, either in the elderly or even younger people who are experiencing other psychiatric disturbances. In rare cases, dizziness may be caused by internal bleeding. If it occurs after an accident or injury then immediate medical attention is necessary, especially if other signs of internal bleeding occur.
Generally speaking, occasional dizzy spells can happen to anyone, and the causes are often easily identified and are not serious medical problems. Occasionally, however, dizziness does signal a much more serious underlying medical disorder, so it always warrants attention when it is chronic, and especially when other symptoms occur at the same time.