Dizziness and Vertigo (Other names: disequilibrium, faintness, giddiness, light-headedness, unsteadiness, vertigo, wooziness).
Dizziness is a feeling that you are spinning, tilting or about to fall. The sensation of dizziness can also make you feel lightheaded which may make you feel faint. It can also cause you to feel giddy or to have difficulty walking straight. Many people who feel dizzy have vertigo which is a specific type of dizziness. Vertigo causes a sense of spinning, dizziness, swaying or tilting. You may feel that you or objects around you are moving. Vertigo can also be caused by inner ear or brain problems.
Some causes of dizziness and vertigo are:
- Drop in blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension): This is caused by your blood pressure falling when you stand up or rise from sitting suddenly. The fall in blood pressure is only for a short time as it quickly readjusts and this problem tends to occur as you get older.
- Medications: Dizziness can be a complication of taking some medications. Take a look at the patient leaflet in the medication under side effects to see if dizziness, vertigo or light-headed is a known side-effect. Do not stop the medication but see your doctor.
- Anxiety disorders: Those experiencing anxiety with panic attacks may feel dizzy or light-headed. This can worsen if you over-breathe (hypoventilate).
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia): commonly occurs in Diabetics who are insulin dependent. Dizziness may occur with sweating and confusion.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: Sudden episodes of vertigo that can last seconds or minutes. The episode occurs when you move your head a certain way. A common example is when you get up in the morning or turn over in bed and an episode occurs. The vertigo occurs due to the sensitive hairs in the labyrinth being stimulated by a solid piece of material when you move your head. This sends wrong messages to your brain about your head position resulting in vertigo.
- Labyrinthitis / inner ear inflammation: There are various causes and is most commonly caused by a viral infection. Other symptoms beside vertigo include feeling sick, hearing loss, flu-like symptoms.
- Meniere’s disease: This condition includes symptoms of vertigo, hearing loss, buzzing or ringing in your ears (tinnitus). Episodes can range from minutes to hours and can eventually result in hearing loss and permanent tinnitus. It occurs due to fluid building up in the ear causing the labyrinth to swell and the symptoms to occur.
- Acoustic neuroma: Is a benign (non cancerous) tumor that grows on the acoustic nerve. Symptoms include vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus. The symptoms worsen as the condition progresses.
Factors that may increase your chances of feeling dizzy for people aged over 65 years are those taking certain medications such as blood pressure lowering medications, seizure medications, sedatives and tranquilizers. Past episode of dizziness could lead to more dizziness episodes.
How you can help your doctor:
Before your consultation with you doctor, think about the following questions they may ask you:
- Describe your dizziness.
- When you have an episode of dizziness do you feel like the room is spinning or you may faint?
- Has the dizziness occurred as a one off episode or have you had several episodes?
- Does it occur at a certain time of day or when you are carrying out a certain activity?
- Do you have any other symptoms like loss of balance or vomiting when the dizziness occurs?
When is it an emergency?
Most causes of dizziness and vertigo are not serious and quickly get better on their own but some causes are life threatening. Generally, if you have unexplained dizziness, feel dizzy regularly or have severe dizziness and you do not know why then you should be seen by a doctor to have it checked out.
If you experience dizziness or vertigo with any of the following symptoms then you should seek medical attention immediately:
- Severe headaches which differ to ones you normally get
- Hearing problems
- Visual loss
- Speech problems
- Weakness of legs or arms
- Difficulty walking
- Collapse or unconsciousness
- Chest pain
- Irregular pulse, fast or slow pulse
- Any other symptom that cannot be explained
These symptoms could indicate other disorders like a stroke or heart attack which is why you shouldn’t delay seeking medical treatment via the emergency services.