Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA

James Krider, MD

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Dizziness - vertigo

Dizziness involves disturbance between the eyes and ears

Everyone may occasionally experience a feeling of dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness, or the woozy sensation of feeling faint. This is not necessarily a sign of a serious problem, and may involve a minor change in blood flow to the brain. However, dizziness can also be a symptom of a variety of conditions, some of which cannot be changed, such as the inevitability of aging. In other cases, dizziness can be a warning sign of a heart attack, a stroke, or another serious disorder.

Dizziness accompanied by numbness or tingling sensations, weakness in the arms or legs, blurred vision, difficulty speaking, or other such symptoms may be associated with a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA or minioke). Seek immediate medical help.

Causes of dizziness

With increasing age, the impulses that are sent from the eye to the brain and then to the spinal cord require increased travel time. One consequence is that older people may feel dizzy or lose their balance if they move suddenly. Simply standing up too fast or getting out of bed quickly can lead to dizziness.

Alcohol abuse
Alcohol is a brain toxin, especially when it is consumed in large amounts. Dizziness is one of the first signs of alcohol intoxication. The dizziness usually passes as the alcohol is removed from the bloodstream, but in chronic alcoholism the dizziness may become permanent.

Brain disorders
Head injuries commonly result in brain disorders, ranging from mild concussion to serious brain damage. A blow to the head that causes dizziness accompanied by a headache may indicate a serious brain injury, even if there is no loss of consciousness. A severe headache along with dizziness and disturbance of the senses of balance, sight, and smell suggest the possibility of a brain abscess or tumor.

Cardiovascular disease
Dizziness can be a sign of many forms of heart or circulatory disorders, including heart attack, stroke, and cardiac arrhythmias.

Drug side effects
Some people experience a drop in blood pressure when they change from lying or sitting down to standing up. This is called orthostatic hypotension, and it commonly causes temporary dizziness. If there are no other symptoms of disease, this is a benign condition. In many instances, however, it is a side effect of medications, especially those used to treat high blood pressure and some forms of heart disease.

Inhalant abuse
This involves "sniffing" various household and other products for mind-altering effects. Abused inhalants include hair spray, cleaning fluid, gasoline, spray paint, and airplane glue. The immediate effects include feelings of euphoria followed by dizziness and other symptoms such as mental confusion, hallucinations, and blackouts.

Inner ear disturbances
The second part of the inner ear is called the labyrinth and consists of several chambers and canals containing fluid. Changes in the movement of these fluids as the body or the head moves produce brain impulses. Any disorder or infection of the labyrinth causes problems with balance and the spinning sensation of vertigo.

Nutritional problems
Hunger often produces feelings of dizziness, which is resolved by eating. More seriously, thiamine and other nutritional deficiencies or diet-related disorders such as diabetes can cause dizziness.

Advice about dizziness

  • If you feel dizzy or faint, sit or lie down and rest. Do not make any sudden movements. Chances are the feeling will pass within a few minutes. If not, seek medical attention.
  • Do not drink alcohol when feeling dizzy.
  • Know the warning signs of heart attack and stroke. If they are present, get to the nearest hospital emergency room as quickly as possible, or call an ambulance.
  • If a doctor prescribes a new medication, ask whether dizziness is a potential side effect. Read labels carefully on over-the-counter drugs to see if dizziness is listed.
  • Elderly people should be aware of the tendency to dizziness and avoid sudden movements to prevent falls.
This article was last reviewed October 24, 2005 by Dr. James Krider.
Reproduced in part with permission of Home Health Handbook.


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