• We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information

PubMed Health. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Dizziness

Light-headedness - dizzy; Loss of balance; Vertigo

Last reviewed: May 1, 2011.

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: Vertigo-associated disorders

Considerations

Most causes of dizziness are not serious and either quickly get better on their own or are easily treated.

Common Causes

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:

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
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Brain tumor
  • Bleeding in the brain

Home Care

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.

Call your health care provider if

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
  • Chest pain
  • Heart skipping beats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • 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
  • Hearing loss

What to expect at your health care provider's office

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
  • Hearing tests
  • Balance testing (ENG)
  • MRI

Your health care provider may prescribe medications to help you feel better, including:

  • Antihistamines
  • Sedatives
  • Anti-nausea medication

Surgery may be needed if you have Meniere's disease.

Prevention

If you have a cold, the flu, or other viral illness, drink plenty of fluids to prevent getting dehydrated.

References

  1. Post RE, Dickerson LM. Dizziness: a diagnostic approach. Am Fam Physician. 2010 Aug 15;82(4):361-8, 369. [PubMed: 20704166]
  2. 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.

Review Date: 5/1/2011.

Reviewed by: 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.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • The Epley manoeuvre for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)The Epley manoeuvre for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
    Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is caused by a rapid change in head movement. The person feels they or their surroundings are moving or rotating. Common causes are head trauma or ear infection. BPPV can be caused by debris in the semicircular canal of the ear that continues to move after the head has stopped moving. This causes a sensation of ongoing movement that conflicts with other sensory information. The review of trials found that the Epley manoeuvre (four specific movements of the head and body designed to move the debris out the ear canal) is safe and effective in the short term. More research is needed.
See all (206) ...

Figures

  • Carotid stenosis, x-ray of the left artery.
    Carotid stenosis, x-ray of the right artery.
    Vertigo.
    Balance receptors.

PubMed Health Blog...

read all...

MedlinePlus.gov links to free, reliable, up-to-date health information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other trusted health organizations.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...