Dizziness: Overview

Dizziness is a common description for many different feelings.  The feeling of dizziness may be very familiar to you, yet difficult to describe.

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Vertigo is a medical term used to describe the feeling of spinning, whirling, or motion – either of yourself or your surroundings.  This is the same feeling you might have after getting off a merry-go-round or spinning in place.  Several diseases of the balance organs of the inner ear can cause vertigo, or it may be a symptom of a tumor or stroke.

Causes and Development

Dizziness is usually only mildly annoying, but may be caused by something serious.  Sometimes no specific cause can be found, but potential dangerous causes need to be excluded.  Most causes of dizziness are harmless and the problem goes away on its own.

Aside from those mentioned below, here are other possible causes of dizziness:

  • Weakened, aged, or diseased heart muscle; toxins or drugs affecting the rate or force of the heart
  • Aging blood vessels or nerves
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Fainting (syncope) – a loss of blood supply to the brain causing loss of consciousness, typically after loss of blood output by the heart.  Many things can trigger the "common faint", such as emotions, rapidly assuming an upright position, and even urination.
  • Hypoxia (low blood oxygen)
  • Reduced capacity for exercise or activity
  • Reduced ability for the blood circulation to compensate for quickly assuming an upright position
  • Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which causes decreased blood supply to the brain, heart and other organs
  • Internal bleeding or hemorrhage, which may go unnoticed
  • Prolonged bed rest, causing weakness, loss of ability to compensate for assuming an upright position
  • Endocrine diseases – Hormone-producing organs such as the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands affect hydration, salt balance, and function of other organs.
  • Hyperventilation – Breathing too fast or too deeply, usually from anxiety.  This may not be apparent to the patient or observers.  Associated hand and foot cramping increase anxiety and perpetuate a cycle.
  • Somatization – The conversion of a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, into physical symptoms.  Often the patient may be unaware of the underlying mental illness and insist that they have only physical complaints.

Seek medical attention if...

Dangerous, life-threatening illnesses may start with dizziness as the only sign.  See a doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Any severe first time or new instances of dizziness
  • Dizziness without a clear or certain cause
  • Any change in an existing pattern of dizziness
  • Worsening or new symptoms
  • Dizziness after taking newly-prescribed medications, or changes to existing prescriptions

Call an ambulance unless you are certain of the cause of the dizziness, or the feeling goes away quickly.  Dizziness may be the only symptom of a heart attach or stroke.  If you are at risk of heart disease, or have a history of heart disease, an ambulance may save your life.

All dizziness with loss of consciousness needs emergency medical attention.

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Dizziness:

Symptoms - General

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Risk factors for Dizziness:



Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

High blood pressure (usually extremely high) can cause damage to the brain, with associated dizziness.



Dehydration can cause a drop in blood pressure, which reduces the amount of oxygen that the brain receives and causes dizziness.  Dehydration can also lead to an inner ear fluid imbalance, which can cause dizziness.

Drug Side-Effect

(Prescription) Drug Side-Effects

Almost all medications list dizziness as a possible side-effect.  Examples include blood pressure medications, sedatives, tranquilizers, antidepressants, pain relievers, some antibiotics.  Diuretics cause dehydration, blood electrolyte changes, heart effects and/or direct side-effects.

Environment / Toxicity




Senile Dementia

Dizziness can be caused by any condition causing confusion or an altered state of mind, including medications, drugs or alcohol.



Dizziness and fainting spells are a possible symptoms of hypoglycemia, which may in turn be a reaction to insulin.


General Weakness

General weakness or deconditioning of the body can produce dizziness.

Nervous System


When the vestibular nerve (connecting the inner ear to the brain) is affected, dizziness or vertigo can result, especially in association with diabetes.

Tumors, Malignant

Brain Tumor

Dizziness and disorientation are possible symptoms of a brain tumor.

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