Dizziness is a term used to describe a range of sensations, such as feeling faint, woozy, weak or unsteady. Dizziness that creates the false sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving is called vertigo.
Dizziness is one of the more common reasons adults visit their doctors. Frequent dizzy spells or constant dizziness can significantly affect your life. But dizziness rarely signals a life-threatening condition.
Treatment of dizziness depends on the cause and your symptoms. It’s usually effective, but the problem may recur.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS CONCERNED ABOUT HAVING DIZZINESS, PLEASE INQUIRE AT THE FRONT WINDOW ABOUT SCHEDULING A NEUROLOGICAL EVALUATION.
People experiencing dizziness may describe it as any of a number of sensations, such as:
- A false sense of motion or spinning (vertigo)
- Lightheadedness or feeling faint
- Unsteadiness or a loss of balance
- A feeling of floating, wooziness or heavy-headedness
These feelings may be triggered or worsened by walking, standing up or moving your head. Your dizziness may accompanied by nausea or be so sudden or severe that you need to sit or lie down. The episode may last seconds or days and may recur.
When to see a doctor
Call 911 or seek emergency medical help if you experience dizziness with:
- A sudden or severe headache
- Ongoing vomiting
- A sudden change in speech, vision or hearing
- Stumbling or difficulty walking
- Chest pain or an irregular heart rate
- Numbness or weakness
- Shortness of breath
- A high fever
- A very stiff neck
- A head injury
Consult with your doctor if you experience recurrent, sudden, severe dizziness or prolonged episodes of dizziness, faintness, lightheadedness or vertigo.
Factors that may increase your risk of getting dizzy include:
- Age. Older adults are more likely to have medical conditions that cause dizziness, especially a sense of imbalance. They’re also more likely to take medications that can cause dizziness.
- A past episode of dizziness. If you’ve experienced dizziness before, you’re more likely to get dizzy in the future.
TESTS AND DIAGNOSIS
If your doctor suspects you’re having or may have had a stroke, are older or suffered a blow to the head, he or she may immediately order an MRI or CT scan. Many of the testing can be performed right here at The Neurological Institute.
Most people visiting their doctor because of dizziness will first be asked about their symptoms and medications and then be given a physical examination. During this exam, your doctor will check how you walk and maintain your balance and how the major nerves of your central nervous system are working.
You may also need a hearing test and balance tests, including:
- Eye movement testing. Your doctor may watch the path of your eyes when you track a moving object. And you may be given an eye motion test in which cold and warm water or air are placed in your ear canal.
- Head movement testing. If your doctor suspects your vertigo is caused by benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, he or she may do a simple head movement test called the Dix-Hallpike maneuver to verify the diagnosis.
- Posturography. This test tells your doctor which parts of the balance system you rely on the most and which parts may be giving you problems. You stand in your bare feet on a platform and try to keep your balance under various conditions.
- Rotary-chair testing. During this test you sit in a computer-controlled chair that moves very slowly in a full circle. At faster speeds, it moves back and forth in a very small arc.
In addition, you may be given blood tests to check for infection and other tests to check heart and blood vessel health.