10 Most Common Causes of Dizziness

Dizziness is one of the most common symptoms reported to doctors, but it is used in several different senses. For example, one person using the word “dizzy” might mean they feel off balance, another might be talking about feeling faint, and a third might mean that they are experiencing vertigo (i.e. feeling like their surroundings are spinning around them).

Thankfully, most cases of dizziness are not associated with sinister underlying conditions. However, it’s smart to be aware of the ten most common reasons for dizziness so that you know what to highlight to your doctor and can tell when you should be concerned about a more serious cause.

1. Vestibular neuritis

Vestibular neuritis is a viral inner ear infection that causes dizziness. It is typically accompanied by balance problems, and sometimes by nausea or vomiting. This type of dizziness has a sudden onset (often after a cold or flu) and is usually self-limiting, though you might need anti-vertigo drugs to cope with the spinning sensation.

2. Anxiety

Dizziness is especially common in anxiety sufferers who experience panic attacks or start hyperventilating when stressed, which results from the fact that abnormally fast breathing can lead to an increase in blood pH associated with lowered concentrations of carbon dioxide in the body. If you suffer from agoraphobia (i.e. fear of large, open spaces), dizziness may also develop if you have to go outside or enter an unfamiliar environment.

3. Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia—low blood sugar—can make you feel faint or off balance. While this cause of dizziness is primarily seen in diabetics, it can in rarer cases be caused by a large carbohydrate-based meal, pancreatic tumors, binge drinking or adrenal gland problems.

4. Dehydration

If you haven’t been drinking enough water (especially during intense exercise) or you’ve had a bad gastric illness that has led to diarrhea, vomiting and high fevers, you may feel dizzy and faint because of dehydration. This type of dizziness is usually seen in conjunction with tiredness, intense thirst, a dry mouth and a headache.

5. Migraine

While the classic migraine involves visual disturbances that precede an intense headache, some people experience dizziness before or after their migraine attack. In addition, there is a particular type of migraine—vestibular migraine—that may only involve dizziness and light sensitivity (without any accompanying headache).

6. Hypotension

Any cause of low blood pressure can lead to a spinning sensation, balance difficulties or feeling faint. If your dizziness strikes when you suddenly get up out of bed or sit down on a chair, you may have a condition called postural hypotension. This is more common in older age, and occurs when there is a temporary reduction in blood flow—and therefore oxygen—to the brain, causing a sharp drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number of your blood pressure reading). Treatment is seldom necessary, but someone with this condition should of course be careful when changing position.

7. Vertebrobasilar insufficiency

When you have inadequate blood flow at the back of your brain, this is called vertebrobasilar insufficiency. It is often caused by blockages in the blood vessels between the heart and brain, which are more likely to develop if you have high cholesterol, smoke, or have a family history of vascular issues like high blood pressure and heart attacks. If this is the reason for your dizziness, you may also experience double vision, tingling in the hands or feet, slurred speech and confusion.

8. Heart rhythm disorders

When your heart is beating in abnormal rhythm, you may feel faint or lightheaded. If you notice that your heartbeat is both fast and irregular, you may have a relatively common heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation. Further symptoms include chest pain or discomfort, tiredness and feeling short of breath.

9. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

BPPV causes an intense but brief sensation of spinning after you move your head (for example, when you bend down to pick something up or you turn over in bed). This dizziness usually doesn’t last longer than a minute, and is caused by a build-up of crystals in the tubes of the ear’s balance system. There are non-invasive treatments for BPPV—most people benefit from repositioning procedures that involve moving the head to shift the crystals to places where they will no longer cause symptoms.

10. Certain drugs

It’s always worth taking a look at the side effects of your current medications if you start to experience any type of dizziness, especially if you’ve recently started taking new drugs. A huge range of medications cause balance problems or lightheadedness as a side effect, most notably those that treat high blood pressure, depression, epilepsy and anxiety.

A final cautionary note

Regardless of whether you think you’ve identified the cause of your dizziness by considering this list, you should always be examined by a doctor if your dizziness is severe or persists for more than a day or so. While most cases are not serious, some are related to underlying neurological or cardiovascular issues, and it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.


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