Northside Health Library Dizziness
Dizziness is a term that is often used to describe two different symptoms: lightheadedness and vertigo.
Light-headedness is a feeling like you might faint.
Vertigo is a feeling that you are spinning or moving, or that the the world is spinning around you. See also:
Light-headedness - dizzy; Loss of balance; Vertigo
Most causes of dizziness are not serious and either quickly get better on their own or are easily treated.
Light-headedness occurs when your brain does not get enough blood. This may occur if:
You have a sudden drop in blood pressure
Your body does not have enough water (is dehydrated) because of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and other conditions
You get up too quickly after sitting or lying down (this is more common in older people)
Light-headedness may also occur if you have the
flu, low blood sugar, a cold, or allergies.
More serious conditions that can lead to light-headedness include:
Heart problems, such as a heart attack or abnormal heart beat
Bleeding inside the body
Shock (extreme drop in blood pressure)
If any of these serious disorders is present, you will usually also have symptoms like chest pain, a feeling of a racing heart, loss of speech, change in vision, or other symptoms.
Vertigo may be due to:
Other causes of lightheadedness or vertigo may include:
Use of certain medications
Bleeding in the brain
If you tend to get light-headed when you stand up:
Avoid sudden changes in posture.
Get up from a lying position slowly, and stay seated for a few moments before standing.
When standing, make sure you have something to hold on to.
If you have vertigo, the following tips can help prevent your symptoms from becoming worse:
Keep still and rest when symptoms occur.
Avoid sudden movements or position changes.
Slowly increase activity.
You may need a cane or other help walking when you have a loss of balance during a vertigo attack.
Avoid bright lights, TV, and reading during a vertigo attacks, because they may make symptoms worse.
Avoid activities such as driving, operating heavy machinery, and climbing until 1 week after your symptoms disappear. A sudden dizzy spell during these activities can be dangerous.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your local emergency number (such as 911) or go to an emergency room if you are dizzy and have:
A head injury
Fever over 101°F, headache, or very stiff neck
Trouble keeping fluids down
Heart skipping beats
Shortness of breath
Inability to move an arm or leg
Change in vision or speech
Fainting and losing alertness for more than a few minutes
Call your doctor for an appointment if you have:
Dizziness for the first time
New or worsening symptoms
Dizziness after taking medication
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:
When did your dizziness begin?
Does your dizziness occur when you move?
What other symptoms occur when you feel dizzy?
Are you always dizzy or does the dizziness come and go?
How long does the dizziness last?
Were you sick with a cold, flu, or other illness before the dizziness began?
Do you have a significant amount of stress or anxiety?
Tests that may be done include:
Blood pressure reading
Balance testing ( ENG)
Your health care provider may prescribe medications to help you feel better, including:
Surgery may be needed if you have Meniere's disease.
If you have a cold, the flu, or other viral illness, drink plenty of fluids to prevent getting dehydrated.
Post RE, Dickerson LM. Dizziness: a diagnostic approach.
Am Fam Physician. 2010 Aug 15;82(4):361-8, 369.
Olshaker JS. Dizziness and vertigo. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds.
Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 12.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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