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Home > Health Library > Dizziness: Lightheadedness and Vertigo
Dizziness is a word that's often used to describe two different feelings. It's important to know exactly what you mean when you say "I feel dizzy." It can help you and your doctor narrow down the list of possible problems.
Dizziness can occur in people of any age. But it's more common among older adults. A fear of dizziness can cause older adults to limit their physical and social activities. Dizziness can also lead to falls and other injuries.
It's common to feel lightheaded from time to time. Brief bouts of lightheadedness aren't usually caused by a serious problem. Lightheadedness often is caused by a quick drop in blood pressure and blood flow to your head. This can occur when you get up too quickly from a seated or lying position (orthostatic hypotension). Lightheadedness that lasts may mean that you have a more serious problem that needs to be checked.
Lightheadedness has many causes. They include:
A more serious cause is bleeding. Most of the time, the location of the bleeding and the need to seek medical care are clear. But sometimes bleeding isn't obvious (occult bleeding). You may have small amounts of bleeding in your digestive tract over days or weeks without noticing the bleeding. When this happens, lightheadedness and fatigue may be the first signs that you are losing blood. Heavy menstrual bleeding also can cause this type of lightheadedness.
Sometimes the cause of lightheadedness is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). This can cause fainting spells (syncope). Unexplained fainting spells need to be checked by a doctor. You can check your heart rate by taking your pulse.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause lightheadedness or vertigo. How bad it is depends on the medicine you take.
Vertigo occurs when there is conflict between the signals sent to the brain by the different systems of the body that sense balance and position. Your brain uses input from four sensory systems to maintain your sense of balance and orientation to your surroundings.
Common causes of vertigo include:
Less common causes of vertigo include:
Medical care is needed right away if vertigo occurs suddenly with a change in speech or vision or other loss of function. Vertigo that occurs with loss of function in one area of the body can mean a problem in the brain, such as a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA).
Alcohol and many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause lightheadedness or vertigo. These problems may develop from:
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Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Vertigo is the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement. It may feel like spinning, whirling, or tilting. Vertigo may make you sick to your stomach, and you may have trouble standing, walking, or keeping your balance.
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Heartbeat changes can include:
Neurological symptoms—which may be signs of a problem with the nervous system—can affect many body functions. Symptoms may include:
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can make you feel lightheaded or affect your balance. A few examples are:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Lightheadedness usually isn't a cause for concern unless it is severe, doesn't go away, or occurs with other symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat or fainting. Lightheadedness can lead to falls and other injuries. Protect yourself from injury if you feel lightheaded. Here are some things you can do.
This will allow more blood to flow to your brain. After lying down, sit up slowly. Stay sitting for 1 to 2 minutes before you slowly stand up.
It's not unusual to be lightheaded during some viral illnesses, such as a cold or the flu. Resting will help prevent attacks of lightheadedness.
Don't drive a motor vehicle, operate equipment, or climb on a ladder while you are dizzy.
Don't use substances that can affect your circulation. These include caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.
Dehydration can cause or increase lightheadedness. It can happen when you have an illness that causes diarrhea, vomiting, or a fever.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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